Bus dispute blamed on private conflict

| Sunday, Feb. 2, 2014, 12:21 a.m.

A Sagamore couple say they will take their three children out of the Armstrong School District because of a bus driver who refused to release them to their grandmother at the end of a recent school day.

Dee Bearce, the bus driver who allegedly would not let grandmother Connie Zimmerman pick up the children on Jan. 21 because she did not have proof of permission, was reportedly taken off the route after the incident.

“We're done with this and made our decision to take action into our own hands for our children,” John Zimmerman, father of the children, said Thursday.

“I don't care what they do with the bus driver, because I've taken care of my children and that's all that matters to me. They're being taken out of school, not because of the district, but because they don't want to deal with the bus.”

Despite being disciplined for her actions, a petition drive seeking her reinstatement driving the route was started by parents who steadfastly support Bearce for following proper procedures in not releasing the children.

But Zimmerman said the actions were rooted in private issues Bearce has with his mother, who both attend the same church and know each other.

Further, he said that he and his wife, Ashley, in August made arrangements with Bearce and the company that operates the buses to have the grandmother occasionally pick up the children — a 10-year-old girl and 6-year-old twins, a boy and a girl.

“She knows my mother and could call her by name,” Zimmerman said. “But they had some kind of a conflict at church, which is where this all comes from.”

Bearce did not return a call seeking comments.

Earlier in the week, WPXI reported she said she did not want to comment for fear of losing her job.

School district officials referred all questions to the company it contracts with for bus service, Valley Lines in Freeport. A person who answered the phone at the company number hung up after saying she was not required to answer questions.

Reports that Bearce was taken off the West Shamokin Junior-Senior High and Shannock Valley Elementary route she was driving when the incident took place were posted online in a petition started by Jennifer Fotheringham of Rural Valley in support of the driver.

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 1,500 people signed the petition asking the school district and bus company to give Bearce her bus route back.

Fortheringham did not respond to emailed requests to talk about the petition.

Since the petition went online, Zimmerman said his family has been subjected to harassment by several of its supporters.

“I just want the harassment to stop,” he said. “This has opened a big can of worms.”

His mother said cyber school may be the best way to handle her grandchildren's education, since they do not want to go to school for fear of the bus ride.

“Those kids won't go near a school bus right now ... they're terrified,” she said. “We don't want to put up with any of this.”

Brad Pedersen is a staff writer for Trib Total Media.

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