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May 10, 2012  |   Comments (5)   |   Post a comment

Progressive discipline: out of sync with busing

Progressive discipline in pupil transportation environments for anything other than general personnel issues — such as tardiness, absenteeism or drivers room behavior — can be bad for kids.

by Michael P. Dallessandro


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Michael Dallessandro is transportation director at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

Michael Dallessandro is transportation director at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y.

I am human, and I make mistakes.

Despite considering myself a conscientious employee, I have accidentally left the office lights on when I went home, and I have occasionally arrived late for work in the past. I do not believe that I or any employee should be harshly disciplined or fired on the spot for making a simple mistake.

Progressive discipline is a tool that is in use in many work environments. It acknowledges the fact that humans will make mistakes during the course of their workday, and it is recognized as a teaching tool that can slowly alter the behaviors of people who care about their job and their coworkers. It is a tool that can help to improve employee performance.

Progressive discipline is also used to bring fairness to employee discipline. The process — which includes verbal warnings, written warnings, suspension and, in extreme cases, termination — prevents bosses from getting rid of an employee with a differing opinion for a minor mistake while an employee who is perceived as the “boss’s pet” has numerous opportunities to screw up with no discipline applied. When used properly, progressive discipline can be a good and just system.

On the flip side of this, progressive discipline in pupil transportation environments for anything other than general personnel issues — such as tardiness, absenteeism or drivers room behavior — can be bad for kids.

I have no tolerance for drivers who drag kids with their bus, have numerous fender benders or blatantly disregard safety procedures or laws.

Does a driver have to drag three separate kids with the bus door before he or she can be fired because the employer is strictly bound by progressive discipline procedures due to labor contracts or civil service laws?

How many kindergarten students have to be left at a street corner or home where there is no parent or guardian present to receive them before News Channel 8 starts to ask questions about your operation that you can only answer to as a “personnel matter” due to progressive discipline?

And lastly, most nationally recognized driver trainers and safe-driving organizations will clearly tell you that a driver who rips off a mirror in January and then backs into a pole a year later is far more likely to have a serious accident in the future than a driver who has a clean record.

In applying progressive discipline in this situation, the employee would get a verbal warning for the mirror incident, a written warning for backing into the pole and possible termination only after the third accident. But note that if the third incident does not happen for another two years, you may not even be able to apply it to progressive discipline due to the statute of limitations in some states.

Sadly, the third incident might be the death of a child or pedestrian. Explaining progressive discipline to the victim’s family will not be easy.

I am not suggesting that employees should lose their rights to protection in their work environment. However, I am a strong advocate for adding a clause — in the case of any contract or regulation that provides for progressive discipline — specifying that certain child endangerment, driving or accident-related issues be excluded from progressive discipline.    

Michael Dallessandro is transportation director at Niagara Wheatfield Central School District in Niagara Falls, N.Y. He is the author of numerous articles and an editorial advisory board member for SCHOOL BUS FLEET. He welcomes comments and feedback at [email protected].


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"There is a good middle road which is just and recognizes good improvements." -- Best statement in these comments, in my opinion. The actual issue may be in the application, not in the reaction. There is more than one right way to enforce discipline, but so many want a fix-all to cover every possible event. Real life involves quick intervention, a measure of compassion, and forgiveness for the civil. Quick intervention is essential when involving the uncivil and the criminal. Too many in management want control of an easy fix that can be abused when convenient. Keep in mind that management is the main instigator of bullying in the workplace. (~ Workplace Bullying Institute). Not condemning, simply mentioning another facet of real workplaces. There is so much about this article that misses the nail I took some time to present my opinion of this issue in my blog: http://theschoolbus-jkraemer.blogspot.com/p/progressive-discipline-out-of-sync-with.html

jkraemer    |    Nov 01, 2012 03:22 PM

I see two exptreems going on here. One side wants to show no mercy. i.e the firing of Terri. I have a brother that was on crack from age 17 until age 22. He is 50 now and has a very fine family and a great job. It is possible for someone to change. On the other hand, I also know of folks who do constantly poor work. They are not necessarily a danger. They just don't do their whole job, and yet, they are allowed to stay on. There is a good middle road which is just and recognizes good improvements.

Frank    |    Jul 09, 2012 01:17 PM

Mr. Dallessandro is spot on! Thank you for having the backbone to stand up to the unfairness of Progressive Discipline. It simply comes down to job protect for incompetent employees. Totaly agree with forgiving mistakes, but as Director, Driver Trainer, we see pattern in driver behavior in regards to driving habits. I've experience numerous excuses to why the driver failed to look in their mirrors, observe the intersection, backing into objects without properly obtaining permission or asking for assistance. Again, Thank you Mr. Dallessandro.

Francis Bagarella    |    Jun 06, 2012 02:50 PM

Reading the article carefully may suggest an attack on the decent treatment of school bus drivers and the civil kids riding the buses, a cuddle bear management style riddled with illusions of gloom and doom in my opinion. The best drivers make mistakes. My twenty plus year career included popping a window while creeping the bus through a ripped up school driveway under, the bus leaning into a gate poll. Another incident was bending a mirror on another bus when behind the wheel of a new bigger conventional bus, Next, damaging the door glass on a mailbox while backing during a turn-a-round when behind the wheel of a new large rear engine transit. Also, hit a trashcan the wind blew in to the road with opposing traffic blocking an escape and no time to stop. No vehicle crashes with vehicles or ditches, and no dead kids. Wherever a state has eliminated fair treatment of employees, unfair treatment is soon to follow. Management fired Terri L. McCloskey, 48, eight years a Pennsylvania school bus driver that had experimented with drugs in her youth and convicted for it was fired 25-years later for that mistake. She had completely changed her life over the years, but that carried no weight whatsoever. The author of the article claims to be human and claims to make mistakes. The article is a mistake that could do more harm than good. Let's get it over with. Seems appropriate that the author, a director of school transportation should be fired on the spot -- Now, not later, and no progressive discipline involved please. Apparently, it is the human thing to do these days.

jkraemer    |    Jun 05, 2012 03:38 PM

How true; also the union should not be allowed to step in and protect a driver that in the case of any contract or regulation that they do not abide by or certain child endangerment, driving or accident-related issues that are safety related.We all make mistakes but in transportation it could only take one to be fatal and not abiding by rules and regulations could be a cause of one of those mistakes.

Pat Jensen    |    May 11, 2012 02:18 PM

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