Herald and Journal, April 24, 2000

Firing leaves HLWW district short two bus drivers

By Andrea Vargo

If your children are an hour late getting home from school, it is because there are not enough Howard Lake-Waverly-Winsted (HLWW) drivers to cover all the routes on certain days.

According to some of the HLWW bus drivers, this is a direct result of firing one driver and putting another on suspension.

Timothy Oberpriller was fired by the HLWW School Board last Monday. The board did not state a reason at the meeting because of data privacy issues.

But Oberpriller, backed by several other bus drivers (who asked not to be named), told the Herald his side of the story.

The incident that caused the firing was reported by several teachers and a principal. It is alleged that Oberpriller fell asleep at the wheel of the bus.

Oberpriller said he thought he saw something in his peripheral vision and, as he turned his head, the wheel turned slightly.

He claims his wheel went over the white line and there was a lip to the edge of the road. He said he did what he thought he was supposed to do and drove the bus on the shoulder, until he could safely put it back on the road.

HLWW Superintendent Riley Hoheisel said that Oberpriller was given two weeks suspension with pay.

A physical was requested by the district, specifically addressing sleep disorders, and Oberpriller was found to have sleep apnea.

This is a condition that causes a person to wake very frequently during a regular sleep period. It can cause excessive drowsiness during waking hours, according to doctors.

One of the possible remedies is called a C-pap machine which must be worn while sleeping. Oberpriller has a unit.

A letter from his doctor to the district said that he couldn't determine if Oberpriller was getting enough sleep, and any decision about whether or not he could drive was up to the district, said Oberpriller.

The district chose not to let him drive a school bus. The safety of the students is absolutely the most important thing, stated Hoheisel.

He made it very clear that the district could not afford to let anyone drive a school bus who was in any way questionable.

The drivers thought that a probationary period was in order, but the bus driver's union sided with the school district's decision.

"When something negative is said about a driver, it is taken as gospel, and if the person in question denies it, it is assumed he is lying," said one of the drivers.

They also claim they write few complaints against students because there is no backing from the administration. They said they would rather deal directly with parents.

One other driver was on a two-week paid suspension as of Monday for a suspected medical problem, and that makes the drivers short two.

Regardless of why they are short, there are 12 routes and only 10 drivers. Nobody dares to get sick. Some drivers have even driven while they are sick, stated one driver.

Another driver explained that this is not a safe or good thing for the children. Some of the little ones get scared because things have changed, and they don't understand.

The three teachers who are qualified to drive a bus are coaches or umpires and sometimes have other obligations, said Athletic Director Dale Decker, one of those teacher/drivers.

A big question that remains unanswered is what will happen in May when additional transportation is needed for field trips planned for the elementary schools. The district is currently advertising for more drivers.

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