DES MOINES, Iowa — An Iowa school bus driver who used her cellphone while transporting students on the interstate has been fired, thanks in part to a student who quietly photographed the incident.
Nationally, it’s one of several cases this year of students photographing their school bus drivers using cellphones as they’re driving.
The Iowa case, which was made public recently, involves an incident that happened last May.
Bus driver Tabitha Jones, 29, of North Liberty was driving students on Interstate 380 to Iowa City West High School on May 14 when she allegedly began using her cellphone.
A student snapped an over-the-shoulder, close-up photo of Jones holding the cellphone against the center of the steering wheel with her thumb on the phone’s screen.
The student reported the matter to Maria Martin, academic dean at the high school, who then emailed Scott Miller at Durham School Services, the contracted bus service for the Iowa City public schools.
At a September hearing dealing with Jones’ request for unemployment benefits, the driver’s boss, Scott Miller, testified that when Jones was first questioned, she denied using her phone on the bus and said she always kept the device in her purse.
Later, when shown the student’s photo, Jones said she had kept her phone inside her bra that day but had pulled it out briefly to check the time, Miller testified.
Other Durham company records submitted at the hearing state that Jones’ boss checked the bus’ onboard surveillance video, which indicated she had the phone out “much longer than the few seconds (necessary) to check the time.”
Jones did not participate in the hearing and could not be reached by the Register for comment.
Miller testified that he fired Jones partly because she had already been issued several warnings for attendance problems and other issues.
Miller declined to comment on the case when contacted by the Register.
Administrative Law Judge Beth Scheetz denied Jones’ request for unemployment benefits, saying the driver’s disregard for company policies amounted to workplace misconduct.
In recent months, students across the nation have used their cellphones to document their bus drivers’ use of the devices.
In August, a Maryland school bus driver was suspended after a student’s parent posted on Facebook a photo of the driver talking on his cellphone while transporting students. In September, a Florida school bus driver was suspended after an eighth-grader shot video of the woman texting while driving. Last month, a Connecticut school bus driver was fired after a student snapped photographs of him texting while driving.