A Broward school bus driver caught improperly talking on the phone says she had a good reason for breaking the rules: It was her son, a U.S. Marine, calling from Iraq.
Bus driver Rossana Lucas said that Dec. 10 phone call was the first time she'd heard from her 21-year-old son, Michael, in seven months, and she had begun to fear for his safety. The phone call came when the bus was empty, and Lucas was only a couple of blocks away from the bus depot where the vehicle would be parked.
Nevertheless, Lucas' supervisors in the Broward school district transportation department cited her for the cellphone use violation, which was captured on the school bus surveillance cameras. On Monday, School Board members were asked to approve a five-day unpaid suspension for Lucas (the recommended punishment from district administrators). But Superintendent Robert Runcie put the brakes on that discipline after hearing the reason why Lucas was on the phone.
"Context does matter," Runcie told board members. "There's some definite circumstances here that I think warrant taking another look at this."
It's unclear how long the district will take in re-examining Lucas' case, or what the final outcome could be -- her discipline could potentially be reduced, or the district might decide not to punish her at all.
In an interview after Runcie intervened, Lucas said she knew that answering the phone that day might get her into trouble, but she also was sure that it was her son who was calling, based on the "restricted" phone number it was coming from. The area of Iraq where her son was stationed had been violent around that time (severely injuring another soldier in his unit, Lucas said), and there was no way she could let the call go to voicemail.
"Like a mother, in my heart, I had no choice," Lucas said.
The entire conversation lasted only about two minutes, Lucas said.
"Mommy, I'm good, I'm fine," is what Lucas said she heard.
Fellow bus driver Jason Ramsey trekked to the school district headquarters to speak on Lucas' behalf.
"She's not denying that she was on the phone," Ramsey told Runcie and School Board members. "But there needs to be a little bit of compassion and common sense."