Education

Heroic Olympia bus driver nearly ‘terminated’ over procedural issue

VIDEO: Olympia school bus swerving from head-on crash

An Olympia School District bus driver is being hailed as a hero for his quick thinking in avoiding a head-on collision on Jan. 20, 2016. This is video footage captured from bus's video camera just before the collision. Six children were injured in
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An Olympia School District bus driver is being hailed as a hero for his quick thinking in avoiding a head-on collision on Jan. 20, 2016. This is video footage captured from bus's video camera just before the collision. Six children were injured in

Last winter, the Olympia School Board recognized substitute bus driver James Bratager for his quick-thinking actions in swerving to avoid a head-on collision.

This week, his name showed up on the School Board agenda as someone being “terminated.” But the district is remedying that.

District officials said Bratager’s name was listed on the personnel report in the School Board’s agenda packet with a proposed action of termination, effective Nov. 14, because he didn’t resign his position as procedure dictates.

School District spokeswoman Kim Doherty said Bratager moved away from the district and didn’t provide a resignation letter. Even though he was employed as a substitute, the School Board’s actions are required “since we don’t have it (a resignation) in writing,” Doherty said.

Bratager said he and his wife and their disabled son moved out of the area last summer. He said he’s now substitute driving for an Educational Service District in another part of the state.

“I called them (the Olympia district) and let them know that I wouldn’t be back this year,” Bratager told The Olympian on Monday. He said he had no idea the district was set to terminate him, especially since he offered to make a lengthy commute if they needed him.

“Terminated does sound like a very harsh word, especially since I basically resigned,” he said. “I still keep in touch with all of the guys down there.”

After learning from The Olympian about the proposal that was set to go before the board, Bratager said he contacted the district and was told by officials that it would be changed to a resignation. He said he was flooded with phone calls and messages from people offering their support in getting the district to change his employment status.

Late Monday afternoon, Olympia School District Human Resources director Scott Niemann released the following statement: “We have been in touch with Mr. Bratager, and we have given him an additional two weeks to submit his resignation.”

Bratager came out of semi-retirement to start driving a school bus in November 2014. Before that, he owned a vending business.

Bratager earned hero status during a crash that injured six children and resulted in criminal charges for another driver who crossed the center line. Bratager was honored by the School Board and during an assembly at Marshall Middle School.

“To me, the kids are the heroes in this,” he told The Olympian. “… they all stayed calm, and they were willing to help.”

Doherty said Bratager hasn’t driven for the district since last school year.

“They wished he was still here,” she added.

Lisa Pemberton: 360-754-5433, @Lisa_Pemberton

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