By Linda Looney-Bond
In Jonesboro Municipal Court Thursday, a Clayton County Schools bus driver pleaded no contest to charges of disorderly conduct and leaving a motor vehicle unattended.
Even so, Municipal Court Judge Steve Lister -- after reading over the documents in the case -- bound it over to Clayton County State Court, to allow the solicitor general to determine whether the charges against Sheira Boyce, 47, are appropriate.
The judge said he was concerned about the charges, but did not elaborate.
On Oct. 7, Boyce was cited by an off-duty Jonesboro police officer for allegedly leaving about 20 students alone on an idling school bus, for about 20 minutes, according to a police department incident report.
Officer Mark Carpenter was working a part-time job as a patrol officer for the school system when he spotted the bus full of students, with no bus driver, according to Major Tim Jessup, interim police chief for the Jonesboro Police Department. The incident occurred at the Perry Learning Center, located at 137 Spring St., according to the incident report.
Carpenter said, while he and a school administrator waited at the bus, Boyce eventually came out of the school with a female juvenile, whom Boyce said she had needed to discipline, according to the report.
Carpenter said he then wrote a citation for the charge of unattended motor vehicle, which, he said, Boyce refused to sign with "[an] attitude."
"I set the ticket book down and told her to put her hands behind her back. The bus driver snatched her hands away ... and spun away from me," Carpenter said in the report.
He said he eventually placed Boyce in his patrol car. He said that Boyce said she acted as she did, because she thought he was "just a security guard."
Following Thursday's court hearing, Boyce said, on the day of the incident, the school bus was filled with students who were approximately 18 to 19 years of age.
Clayton County Schools Spokesman Charles White said the school system would not comment on the age range of the students on the bus.
The Perry Learning Center houses several programs, including the Elite Scholars Academy Charter School, which middle school students attend. The center also houses a career center, an adult-education program, and the Clayton County school system's open campus high school.
Boyce said that the female student she was disciplining was about 18 years old. She said school policy required that girls sit on one side of the bus, and boys on the other side, but that the female student was sitting with the boys, and refused to move from her seat.
Boyce said that earlier, an administrator had told her, by phone, that school bus drivers are allowed to have a conference with students who are not cooperating. "I took her in the school. I was explaining to her ... that I cannot be concerned about all this foolishness. We came to a happy medium. We hugged," Boyce said.
Boyce said when she came out of the school, she refused to sign the citation issued by the officer. "Constitutionally, that's a violation of my rights. I don't have to put my signature on anything," she said.
Boyce said two weeks after the incident, she was fired. "They fired me, as of Wednesday ,the 21st [of October]. I'm unemployed," she said.
"Ms. Boyce was terminated from her duties as a bus driver with the Clayton County Schools Department of Transportation," White said. "The reason given was failure to fulfill duties, responsibilities, and willful neglect of duties. Specifically, she failed to comply with Clayton County Public Schools' Transportation Department employee manual," he said.
White said that, following the incident, Boyce "was on administrative leave without pay, and she was told she was on administrative leave without pay. The transportation department employs a progressive discipline process," he said. "Their objective is they want to keep kids in school, and probably, one of the options that a driver does have is to have a conversation with the student. The point that falls between the cracks is, the bus driver manual states clearly that drivers are prohibited from leaving students on the bus with the motor running," White said.
Clayton County Solicitor General Tasha Mosley said Thursday afternoon that her office had not yet received the case. "Once it's bound over, it will come through my office, and we'll assign it some tracking numbers, and the computer will assign a judge to it." Mosley said. "Then, we'll know what prosecutor will handle the case. That prosecutor will determine what charges are appropriate -- if any. "I would have to look at how old the children were in the vehicle, and other factors," she said.
Mosley said Boyce could face up to a $1,000 fine, and/or 12 months of incarceration, or probation, on each charge.