By Amanda Litvinov / photo by monkeyz_uncle
With his newly announced running mate Congressman Paul Ryan in tow, GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney took the opportunity on Saturday during two campaign stops to go on the attack—not only against his opponents in Washington, but also against school bus drivers.
Speaking to crowds in Manassas and Richmond, Virginia, Romney articulated his belief that school bus drivers, and by extension all education support professionals, play no role in student achievement. When a child makes the honor roll, Romney said, “I realize to get to school they’ve got to go on a bus. And the bus driver is driving the bus. But when [the student] makes the honor roll, I don’t credit the bus driver. I credit the kid who got the honor roll.”
Romney’s mean-spirited speech (in which he went on to degrade several other categories of public employees) sent ripples of alarm through the education community. Why would a presidential candidate go out of his way to denigrate the role that education support professionals play in the life of a child? Is Romney so disconnected from the lives of average Americans that he doesn’t understand how a school community works?
“He clearly doesn’t understand what our job is,” said Hugh Murray Jr., who drives a bus and serves as a driver instructor for Virginia’s Loudoun County Schools. “We’re not just driving, we’re making sure these kids are safe and taken care of.”
NEA members know that school bus drivers do much more than make the wheels on the bus go ’round and ’round. They are the first and last school employee that many children encounter. They encourage children to start their day right, and encourage them to keep trying if it goes wrong. They are trained to maintain safety and discipline, and to respond to scraped knees and first day of school jitters. They are also key to bullying prevention and are on the front lines of protecting vulnerable students.
Manassas City teacher Kellie Blair Hardt, who was at the Romney-Ryan event just a few miles from Metz Middle School where she works, said Romney’s comments are in keeping with his belief that class size doesn’t matter.
“From the bus drivers to the cafeteria workers to the assistant in my own special education classroom, ESPs are an integral part of the success of our students,” said Hardt, who is president of her local and the Manassas City Educator of the Year. “Romney’s statement should open the eyes of anyone who really cares about public education—he doesn’t understand it and that’s why ESPs are of no importance to him.”
Murray, who started working in Loudoun County transportation seven years ago after serving 20 years in the U.S. Marine Corps, said bus drivers provide valuable information every day to educators and administrators about student needs and behavior issues, which helps them better serve their students.
“The way I see it, I’m like a parent while they’re in my care,” Murray said. “I have the same concerns for them that I would have for my own children.”
Seventy-seven percent of education support professionals live in the communities in which they work, which further strengthens the trust that students and their parents place in ESPs.
“Gov. Mitt Romney had the gall to minimize the impact educators have on students. Regardless of whether it’s a bus driver, a teacher or a school secretary, everyone in the school community works together to help students succeed,” said NEA President Dennis Van Roekel. “Ensuring that all our kids get a quality education requires that we all work together. As adults, we set a very poor example if we call names, throw around divisive rhetoric and minimize the contributions of members of the education team—when that happens, our students lose.”