HOUSTON – Several Houston bus drivers were recently reprimanded for using their school district’s radio system to pray.
According to reports, several Houston Independent School District (HISD) bus drivers utilized a dormant channel on the district’s radio system to offer morning prayers during late December. Deborah McDonald, one of the praying bus drivers, said they decided to pray because people they knew had recently been the victims of several tragedies.
“A mother and a grandmother lost a 12 year old, one had a stroke, and then one got hit by a car,” McDonald told local affiliate FOX 26.
“This was the only thing we could do to support one another,” she said. “By praying to God.”
According to reports, the bus drivers’ prayers were normally about five minutes in length, and they carried out the prayer practice for at least a week in late December. To avoid distraction while driving, they only prayed when their buses were not moving.
However, when HISD officials learned of the bus drivers’ radio prayers, they punished McDonald—a driver for 22 years—and at least four of her colleagues, advising that the radio system should only be used for school-related communication. HISD spokesperson Denisse Cantu released a statement to clarify the school district’s policy:
“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,” Cantu stated. “This policy is available in the handbook which every HISD bus driver has received a copy of.”
The bus drivers were punished with write ups, which were filed in their employee records. Even though the drivers’ pay was not immediately affected, the files could negatively impact their ability to drive buses during the summer months.
Wretha Thomas, a union representative for the bus drivers, criticized the school district’s handling of the situation.
“It is sad that the district would take this position writing up my bus drivers,” Thomas remarked.
Thomas believes HISD officials are showing a double standard when it comes to the school prayer policy.
“In fact,” she said, “HISD [officials] pray … every time they get ready to have a board meeting. They’re allowed to pray.”
According to KHOU, the bus drivers initially requested a quiet room for their group prayers. However, school officials refused to grant their request, so instead the drivers used a back channel on their radios.
On Tuesday, a group of school workers and local ministers gathered in front of the HISD administration building to pray for the situation.
“There are a number of ways to have this resolved from the preachers and pastors who are very concerned,” said Robert Gilmore of Houston Ministers Against Crime, as reported by KTRK.
Dennis Campbell, a member of a local Baptist church, prayed for the bus drivers who were affected.
“[I pray] that you’ll erase [the write ups] off the bus drivers’ records, God,” he prayed. “Lord, that you’ll bless these bus drivers for blessing you, God.”