BROOKSVILLE – A bus driver accused of driving Hernando High School’s girls softball team while under the influence was cleared of the allegations following a Hernando County School District investigation.
On April 30, the night of driver Donna Mae Rogers’ arrest, Transportation Director Doug Compton wrote a letter to the “valued employee” of bus route No. 58.
“I just wanted to take a moment and say thanks for your assistance with covering routes,” Compton wrote Rogers, 59, who has been with the district almost nine years. “Here is a Kudos for you and all you do!”
Later that evening, after Rogers had taken Hernando High School’s Lady Leopards softball team to play against the Buccaneers in New Port Richey, Rogers was approached by two New Port Richey police officers over suspected marijuana use and was later charged with resisting arrest without violence.
Rogers told police she was just angry over allegations of DUI and that a student tried to set her up, according to an arrest report.
Following a district investigation, in which Rogers voluntarily submitted to drug tests looking for the presence of marijuana, cocaine, methamphetamine, amphetamine and opiates, none of the alleged substances were found in her system.
In addition, Rogers was never charged with DUI by New Port Richey police, and she passed field sobriety tests after being taken to the ground by police officers.
“Based on the information available to us, there was not compelling evidence provided that you were under the influence while operating a school district vehicle,” School Superintendent Bryan Blavatt wrote. “In addition, you voluntarily submitted to a test which yielded a negative result for the presence of drugs and/or alcohol. As such you will be reinstated to your position.”
Hernando High employee Robin Bailey, 44, is listed in the report as the complainant and one of “several other people” who approached two New Port Richey police officers at the school who were there in response to an unrelated call.
Bailey and others claimed their bus driver, Rogers, was impaired and “appeared to be under the influence,” and that the bus smelled like marijuana, according to the report. On May 3 Rogers was suspended with pay over the allegations.
Rogers said in a May 10 discipline predetermination meeting that she let the Hernando High School girls softball team off at the parking lot and went to a designated smoking area beside the school bus to smoke cigarettes, read and do paperwork.
Rogers said she saw two males who she had problems with in the past mimicking her. She said she reported one of them for bringing a Taser gun on a field trip and the other was a friend of his who previously harassed her while she was driving.
“If I (complain) about a student, (administration) knows there’s a problem because I handle my own problems,” Rogers said. “His friend who was in front of my bus is one of the students who has been harassing me by digging in my trash trying to find cigarette butts to see if I smoke on the bus, or seeing an empty bottle and take it out to smell it claiming I must be drinking on the job. . We are the bad guys to some who need to be reprimanded for not obeying the rules.”
When Rogers got back to the bus and the softball team boarded again, she was asked by Bailey to speak with two New Port Richey police officers.
“I thought something was wrong with the kids, to be honest with you,” Rogers said. “(The officer) walked me back into the custodial garage and that’s when he said I was in suspicion for smoking marijuana on the bus . and he asked me if I’d pass a field sobriety, and that was after he had slammed me around quite a bit, because I did – when I got angry, I did turn around.”
“I find that when I get (angry) – if I turn around, then I don’t lose my cool,” Rogers added. “He grabbed me. I got slammed into a desk, on the floor and handcuffed. And then I was asked to take a field sobriety. At that point I was shaking from head to toe, but I did pass everything.”
Rogers was arrested and charged with resisting arrest for that incident. She was not drug tested when arrested and was released from the Land O’ Lakes Detention Center May 1 on $150 bond, jail records show.
“He threw me around like a 50-pound rag doll,” Rogers said about the police officer. “I was bruised from head to toe . We’re taught when someone gets into our private space, you find yourself getting ready to turn and walk. So my automatic response, instead of blowing, I’ve taught myself to run and walk, take a deep breath, get my act together, so I don’t respond poorly. I do that automatically.”
Rogers told administrators during the predetermination meeting that she only drank tea that day and took the proper dosage of her prescription medications, which would not create an intoxicating effect.
As a bus operator, Rogers is regularly tested and has never had a positive result, according to Compton.
Rogers also said there was an accusation in the media that one of the girls on the bus claimed Rogers had yelled and cursed at the students all the way down to the game in New Port Richey.
“I had asked that that tape be pulled to prove my innocence,” Rogers said.
Compton confirmed this.
“I did not see that,” Compton said, adding that he pulled and reviewed the tape. “From what I recall, no, you were just loading the bus.”
Rogers also wrote in a petition letter to the district that when the girls softball team was loading onto the bus, they never said a word indicating the bus smelt of marijuana and that newer buses such as that one have a distinct smell that might have been confused for marijuana.
“I believe I am being unjustly accused by two children who feel that getting back at me for turning them in for an instance that happened before with them, so they may feel vindicated,” Rogers wrote.
Several parents and grandparents whose children have been students on Rogers’ bus route wrote Blavatt defending Rogers’ character.
The common thread in the letters was that it would be a mistake to let Rogers go.
One parent wrote that “Miss Donna” is a no-nonsense driver with a heart of gold. Another wrote that letting Rogers go would be a huge mistake.
A grandmother described her in her letter as caring, good with kids, and that she’s praying the district keeps her. Another parent wrote Rogers was amazing and had a very positive impact on her children.
Rogers will have an alternative assignment the remainder of the 2012-13 school year and next year will return to her regularly assigned bus route.