A bus driver for a Hamilton County Schools contractor was fired Thursday morning after questioning a school district decision to open schools despite potential hazards from wet roads and cold temperatures.
"HCS will open on normal schedule this morning," the district posted on Facebook. "Buses on Signal Mountain may be running a bit behind schedule as bus drivers use an abundance of caution."
Jonathan McKenney, a subcontractor who drove the Signal Mountain route, posted a public reply saying, "If the W and roberts mill are closed by the sheriff's department, that should be a big clue. I just don't get it."
He was open on Facebook about getting fired after making the comment, and his situation became a subject of long strings of supportive comments from families who have appreciated his dedication over the years — and who appreciated his concerns for road safety.
In a typical comment, Ivonne Stewart posted to McKenney, "You are such a safe bus driver who is both caring & conscientious with our children. You keep order and you are nice. Whenever we got a new neighbor and they asked how the school bus was here, I would say with complete confidence how wonderful you are."
Bus owner responseView
John Wesley Crider commented, "Completely agree. Mr. Jon has always put our child's safety first and shouldn't be penalized for that!"
In a response to questions from the Times Free Press, schools spokesperson Cody Patterson said officials took a variety of factors into account when deciding to open schools Thursday morning.
"In close partnership with the National Weather Service and emergency management, HCS takes into account a variety of factors when making operational decisions with the best interest of all students and staff across Hamilton County in mind," Patterson said.
The district also released a statement from McKenney's former employer, Jamie Lee, who has a contract with the district to provide bus service.
"Jon McKenney has been a driver for me the past year and I have had numerous issues with his willingness to cooperate on routes," the statement said. "These issues range from being argumentative about new stops to insubordination. There were a series of events that led to the latest issue. On Wednesday, I had to go to the bus route to ensure it was covered because he was not answering his phone. This morning he questioned my attendance at a meeting requested by transportation. In that conversation he asked what I thought about his facebook post and I stated that I did not like it. Jon then stated, 'Then you need to fire me.' After I replied that I would take care of the route from here, Jon then hung up on me and we have not communicated since. I no longer employ Mr. McKenney as a driver on my routes. I will fulfill my responsibilities according to my contract with Hamilton County Schools and make sure that this route is covered."
McKenney told the Times Free Press that his employer treated him very well over the past four years, and he thinks this decision came from above him.
McKenney said he did not expect the outpouring of positive response from parents and community members to his post, and that his biggest regret is that he dropped the kids off in the morning but someone else had to drive them home in the afternoon.
"I wrote a post that I wrote basically to say goodbye to everybody," McKenney said. "I absolutely love my job, I love the kids that I serve and I did everything I did for the kids."
On Facebook, McKenney wrote, "I thought I would do this til i retired or died. Our system is full of hypocrisy and they couldn't stand someone having an opinion (no matter how bland) or someone who would fight for their kids and hold them to policy they set."
District officials said that McKenney is still eligible to work with other contractors that work with Hamilton County Schools.
Contact Anika Chaturvedi at email@example.com or 423-757-6592.