Bus drivers for the Houston Independent School District are rallying in protest after their employer punished them for praying at work. The drivers had used a back channel on the bus radio system to pray for one of their coworkers after her 12-year-old daughter was struck and killed by a vehicle in mid-December.
A group of bus drivers from the Houston Independent School District [HISD] and several local ministers gathered Tuesday in front of the HISD administration building to pray for resolution and justice in the recent controversy that began two weeks ago, when at least five HISD bus drivers were punished for using a dormant channel on the bus radio system to pray for a coworker mourning the loss of her daughter.
The controversy began with tragedy on Dec. 16, when a 12-year-old girl in north Harris county was struck by a vehicle while walking home from school, later dying of her injuries. Her mother is an employee with the HISD's bus system, and as a show of solidarity and support, her coworkers used the bus radio system's back channel to pray five minutes every day for a week following their coworker's loss.
"We just come together as one. It may not be what a lot of people are used to doing but from my point of view, I just have a heart," one of the drivers who participated in the prayer, Cynthia Cormier, told KHOU 11 News.
"This was the only thing we could do to support one another," another driver, Debra McDonald, said. "By praying to God."
After completing their prayers one day, at least five of the drivers with the HISD were surprised to learn that they had received disciplinary letters placed in their personal files saying they violated school district policy by using the two-way radios to pray. Someone else using the radio had reportedly heard the drivers praying and decided to call in a complaint. Although the employees were not docked pay, their negative disciplinary marks could make it more difficult for them to get jobs driving buses in the summer.
HISD spokesperson Denisse Cantu released a statement citing district policy that read: "As stated in the HISD Transportation Handbook policy and in accordance with the FCC law, all radio communications are to be used for HISD purposes only, to ensure the safety of students and employees. This policy is available in the handbook which every HISD bus driver has received a copy of."
Drivers who participated in the prayer argued that the bus was not in motion when they conducted the prayers so no passengers were in danger.
Wretha Thomas, president of the Educational Support Union that represents the bus drivers, believes that if anything, the drivers should have just been given a verbal warning. "It is sad that the district would take this position writing up my bus drivers," Thomas remarked.
Thomas went on to say that she believes the school district is setting a double standard when it comes to its policy on prayer. "In fact," she said, "HISD [officials] pray [..] every time they get ready to have a board meeting. They're allowed to pray."
The Christian Post's request for comment from the Educational Support Union was not immediately returned Thursday.
Bus drivers and ministers gathered in front of the administration building on Tuesday to call on the district to remove the disciplinary letter from employee files. HISD board members have also said they plan to speak to the district's superintendent about the prayer policy, especially since some of the bus drivers were reportedly denied their request for a quiet room to conduct their prayers, and were therefore forced to use the radio system's back channel.
"We ask not for special favors, simply for justice," prayed Reverend Bill Lawson with the Wheeler Avenue Baptist Church at Tuesday's gathering. "And we ask that you will see to it that the jobs and the reputations of those who have been written up will be looked after and that somehow they should be fairly treated."