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Manatee school bus driver suspended without pay (with video)

BRADENTON — Despite declaring her innocence to the Manatee County school board Monday, a school bus driver accused of witnessing middle school girls drinking alcohol on her bus was suspended without pay and granted an administrative hearing in connection with the Feb. 19 incident.

Ava White-Smith, 44, of Bradenton, had been on administrative paid leave since April 27 — the day after her district bus boss asked her to resign from her post and she refused. School officials learned the girls were drunk when they arrived at Just For Girls, an alternative education program for sixth, seventh-and-eight-grade girls in Manatee County. At school they confessed to drinking and one student pulled a half-bottle of gin from her backpack after being confronted by a school employee, according to a district administrative complaint.

Prior to the board making its decision, White-Smith denied the allegations against her and asked the board to reassign her to an office job until the end of the school year.

“I do oppose being suspended without pay. I’m a single parent,” said White-Smith, a 13-year veteran bus driver. “I still feel I am very innocent of these charges.”

But the board voted 3-1 to suspend her without pay with board member Barbara Harvey dissenting. Board Member Walter Miller was absent.

Superintendent Tim McGonegal wanted White-Smith fired for not reporting the incident, but because she requested a hearing the school board in a separate unanimous vote allowed her to take the matter before an administrative law judge for him to decide her fate. A court hearing date was not announced.

Board Member Bob Gause asked how the district disciplined the students caught drinking. McGonegal said he could not specifically address that in a public hearing, but did say the students had been punished.

“Their parents have been involved as well,” McGonegal said.

In related matters Monday night, the board agreed to advertise a public hearing for June 28 on proposed changes to the student code of conduct.

The proposed amended policy establishes guidelines on how principals should discipline students for misbehavior on buses. Proposed punishments range from assigned seats in the front of the bus to bus suspension for the remainder of the school year.

The current policy does not specify punishments. Instead, principals determine what a student’s punishment should be.

Also Monday the board:

n Granted an administrative hearing to teacher’s aide Mary P. Lipoksy. McGonegal has requested she be suspended for five days after school officials say she grabbed a student in the Daughtrey Elementary cafeteria while he was seated and lifted him out of his seat on Feb. 2. In another incident in December 2009, Liposky grabbed a co-workers arm during an argument, school officials say.

Liposky, who has worked in the district since 2006, used excessive force with the student and had inappropriate physical contract with a co-worker, according to an administrative complaint.

n Approved a charter school contract between State College of Florida, on behalf of State College of Florida Collegiate School, and the school board for the 2010-15 school years. The school will serve grades 6-12 with a projected enrollment of 132 during the first year.

n Approved a charter school contract between Palmetto Charter School, Inc. and the school board for the 2010-15 school years. It will serve students in grades K-8 with a projected enrollment of 345 during the first year.

n Authorized school board chair Jane Pfeilsticker to sign the memorandum of understanding to pursue participation in the Race To The Top Federal Grant.

n Proclaimed May as Civility Month, and called upon residents to exercise civility toward each other.

n Recognized seniors with 12 or more years of perfect attendance. They are: Mia Anne Grant, Bayshore High School and Katherine Pyne, Lakewood Ranch High School.

n Honored Gabriel Ortiz, Oasis Middle School education program director, for being awarded one of six College Board Bob Costas Grants for the Teaching of Writing for his innovative methods to inspire students to write.

n Recognized student winners from the 2010 County-Wide Math Superstars competition. They are: Alison cq Ecker and Megan Johnson, Sea Breeze Elementary; Frantzcito cq Joseph and Julia cq Franck, Mills Elementary; Zack cq Brodersen and Kayton cq Fletcher, Williams Elementary; Madelyn cq Kumar and Olivia Yaryura, Willis Elementary and ShelbyEgan and Kyle Scher, Kinnan Elementary.

n Honored three Southeast High School academies that received national accreditation by meeting Career Academy National Standards of Practice. They are The Academy of Visual and Performing Arts; The Academy of Agriculture, Business and Consumer Sciences and the Academy of Electronic Communications.

n Recognized Manatee County Career and Technical Educations Organization first-place winners. Students learned personal growth, leadership and opportunities in their career and technical education areas.

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