No elementary school bus driver can enjoy hearing his passengers screaming, but these outbursts were altogether different.
During what was just his second solo outing on the job in Ohio, Dennis Kaliszewski was headed to his first afternoon stop when “it seemed as though the entire bus of students started to yell that a young boy had a knife in his possession," he told Cleveland.com.
So, the 60-year-old substitute driver said, he pulled over and ordered the boy — between the ages of 8 and 10 — to hand over the knife. It took three tries, including Kaliszewski telling the kid the bus wouldn’t move and police would be called if he didn't cooperate, but the boy finally came to the front of the bus and gave Kaliszewski a small pocketknife.
And the bus started up again.
Kaliszewski told Cleveland.com he doesn’t believe the kid was a threat to other students, just showing off the pocketknife.
“I feel I defused the situation and eliminated any danger," he said.
That apparently wasn't good enough for the Parma City School District.
Kaliszewski said he was called to a meeting the morning after the Nov. 14 incident, attended by two supervisors and a representative of the district’s safety and security department, and was fired without the opportunity to defend himself, Cleveland.com reported.
The reason? Failure to follow district protocol.
District spokeswoman Erin Gadd declined to provide Cleveland.com with specifics regarding what such protocol entails since school board policy prohibits discussion of personnel matters.
But Kaliszewski told Cleveland.com what his three months of training taught him: In the case of a student with a weapon, he's supposed to stop the bus, tell riders there are mechanical problems and then contact police.
As to why he didn't follow those guidelines when the Pleasant Valley Elementary School student had the pocketknife, Kaliszewski said he wasn't certain the kid had a knife until it was actually handed over.
“To me, as an adult, I think I’d look like an idiot if I called police and it turned out to be a rubber knife,” he told Cleveland.com. “For using common sense, I lose my job.”
Kaliszewski didn't keep the incident a secret. While he made the rest of his stops that day, Kaliszewski said he told his supervisor he needed to discuss a situation with her. Upon returning to the district garage, he said he tried to find his supervisor and then learned she had left for the day. So Kaliszewski left too, then told his training supervisor about the incident and also documented it in a report and formal letter.
“Being a caring contentious [sic] person, I thought I did all the correct things to defuse the situation, keep the students safe as safety is my main objective and doing all the things I was taught,” he wrote in the letter, according to Cleveland.com. “I reported to both my manager and higher ups that I had things that needed to be addressed. I was not trained in proper procedure once an incident has been resolved, in regards to what to say and what not to say.”
Indeed Kaliszewski said a parent at the last stop asked him why the bus was late. “At that I told her, when all the students were away from the door, that I was a substitute and I had confiscated a knife from one of the students,” he said in a letter to district Superintendent Jeffrey Graham. “I didn’t want to lie about it knowing all the students were previously yelling his name and figured they would all go running home and telling their parents. Plus I was not given instructions on what to say or not to say other then the truth.”
Kaliszewski told Cleveland.com he believes another reason for his termination is retaliation over angry telephone calls the district received from parents over the incident. Gadd, the district spokeswoman, confirmed at least one parent did contact the district about the incident.
Gadd wouldn't disclose the boy's age or grade to Cleveland.com, nor would she say whether he is facing disciplinary action.
Kaliszewski said he has contacted an attorney he hopes will help him get his job back and clear his name after being "unjustly relieved" of his position.
This post has been updated.