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Iowa school bus driver fired for texting, driving

Published: Monday, Dec. 16, 2013 11:05 a.m. CDT

IOWA CITY (AP) — An Iowa school bus driver accused of using her cellphone while driving students on the interstate has been fired after a student surreptitiously photographed the incident.

Tabitha Jones, 29, of North Liberty, was driving students southbound on Interstate 380 to Iowa City West High School on the morning of May 14, when she reportedly began using her cellphone, The Des Moines Register reported for its Saturday editions.

A student snapped an over-the-shoulder, close-up photo of Jones holding the cellphone against the center of the steering wheel with her thumb on the phone’s screen, the newspaper said.

Jones was fired sometime after that incident.

At a September hearing dealing with Jones’ request for unemployment benefits, her former boss testified that Jones initially denied using her phone on the bus. After being shown the student’s photo, she said she had pulled it out briefly to check the time, the boss said.

However, officials testified, onboard surveillance video showed Jones had the phone out much longer than the few seconds necessary to check the time.

Administrative Law Judge Beth Scheetz denied Jones’ request for unemployment benefits, saying the driver’s disregard for company policies amounted to workplace misconduct.

A phone message left Saturday at the North Liberty home of a Tabitha Jones seeking comment was not immediately returned.

School district officials told The Des Moines Register that they didn’t have a copy of the photo. Maria Martin, academic dean with Iowa City West High School, said she had heard about the photo and, without seeing it or asking for a copy, instructed the student to send it directly to Durham School Services, a private bus company that serves Iowa City public schools.

“I provided the student with the contact information to send that on to Durham,” she said. “This wasn’t a concern that we were addressing at the school. This was a Durham concern.”