Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated Michael Hedrick's employment status. Hedrick is suspended without pay until the Citrus County School Board votes on his termination recommendation. The Chronicle regrets the error.
The Citrus County School District suspended a bus driver in early April after he failed to notice an Inverness Middle School student boarding the bus and closed the doors on the boy’s arms, trapping a bag the boy was carrying inside the bus and forcing him to drop the bag and back away from the bus to avoid being dragged alongside as the driver pulled away.
Michael Hedrick had been employed with the district as a bus driver since 2013, and had previously been employed as a custodian with the district during the 2008-09 school year. He received a letter of reprimand in 2012, when he was employed as a substitute bus driver, for dropping students off in a place other than a bus stop and failing to follow procedures.
A March 12 email to the school district from a parent described the student’s experience.
“Another student loaded the bus and my son attempted the enter the bus right after her,” the letter reads. “The bus doors closed on him as he had his foot, his arms, and his book bag/track bag inside the doorway.”
The student jumped back and was able to free his arms from the bag, which was caught inside the doors and fell to the floor of the bus, the letter said, continuing: “The bus then pulled away without even realizing what had happened.”
Hedrick was notified two days later, on March 14, by the district’s director of transportation Marilyn Farmer that she would recommend to district Superintendent Sandra “Sam” Himmel that Hedrick be suspended without pay for 30 days and required to attend four hours of remedial training before returning to work.
During a further investigation by the school district, a transportation department employee who questioned Hedrick said that Hedrick was not aware that the student “was ever at the door of the bus until he viewed the video.”
When Farmer reviewed video from the bus, she observed that a female student boarded the bus at 7:17 a.m. and was immediately followed by a male student, who was “about to step onto the bus” when “the passenger door begins to close on (him),” and closed on his bag as he pulled back out of the doorway.
“Mr. Hedrick’s head never moved to look toward the door to ensure that it was clear of passengers or articles as he was trained to do,” Farmer’s statement reads.
Farmer also explained that Hedrick was reassigned to fueling buses the following day, and informed on March 14 of the consequences. Farmer further reported that “due to the lack of confidence” that the student’s family “will understandably now have in him as a driver,” another bus would take over the stop.
In a March 20 letter from Himmel, Hedrick was notified that in addition to his unpaid suspension, district staff would recommend to the school board that he be fired. The school board must vote to finalize all staff recommendations of hirings and terminations of employees; it has yet to vote on the recommendation of termination.