The 20-year-old school bus driver fired for letting a radio personality board a middle-school bus wants the school board to restore her job, saying the station's on-air prank put her in a no-win situation.
Jase “Cubby” Squires, 26, boarded a bus heading for Southwest Middle School on the first morning of school, reporting by cell phone to on-air staff at the A.M. Mayhem show on WIBT-FM (96.1 “The Beat”). Squires has been charged with disorderly conduct.
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Shaniece Merchant, who had driven a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools bus for just under a year, said to her quick glance Squires – who is 5 feet 7 and 293 pounds, according to his arrest record – looked like “just a chunky white kid.” He was not wearing a uniform like most of the adolescents on the bus, she said, but she considered that an issue for the school to deal with.
“It's actually not my place to ask him ‘Where's your uniform?',” Merchant said today. “What if he's poor and doesn't have money to get a uniform?”
Squires told on-air staff that kids on the bus looked like they were 7 years old. But Merchant said there were no children younger than sixth grade, or about 11.
Superintendent Peter Gorman has said some parents at the stop knew Squires was doing a radio prank and trying to get on the bus. A CMS law enforcement officer heard the live broadcast and was trying to find the bus to intervene, but Squires got off at the next stop.
Merchant said she knew nothing about the stunt until she got to her bus lot after the morning run and was confronted by a CMS officer. When a supervisor told her she was suspended, she started crying, she said.
She said someone from the district's human resources office later grilled her about why she didn't ask Squires more questions. She was fired Tuesday – apparently a surprise even to Gorman, who told reporters at a Wednesday morning news conference that the driver was still suspended with pay and that he would decide whether she kept her job.
Merchant said today that it was her first day driving that route, and she had not yet received a list of riders. CMS often has to shuffle stops and rider lists during the first several days of school. She wonders what would have happened if she had questioned an adolescent about his size.
“He probably would have started crying and told his parents I was harassing him,” she said.
Morgan Bohannon, regional vice president for Clear Channel's cluster of Charlotte radio stations, called the stunt “a morning show bit gone wrong.” The show's crew faces unspecified “discipline” and Squires is off the air for about a week, he said.
Merchant said a station official apologized when she called, but she hung up on him. When she asked a lawyer about suing the station, she says, the lawyer suggested appealing to the school board to get her job restored.
She says she had worked at a Super Target before a friend recommended the driver job. Merchant got her commercial driving license and was making $16,100 a year, according to CMS payroll records.
“It was fun once you got to know your students on the bus,” she said. Now, she said, she's looking for a new job – and wondering why a radio station got her fired for laughs.