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Dueling court filings outline dispute ahead of court date
McKeesport Area School District and Pennsylvania Coach Lines traded accusations this week in their ongoing dispute over the bus company’s inability to provide enough drivers on certain routes.
Attorneys for both sides were scheduled to present arguments Thursday before Allegheny County Judge Arnold Klein in Pittsburgh.
In a court filing Tuesday, attorneys for Pennsylvania Coach Lines accused the school district of deliberately trying to breach its contract with the bus company.
The district responded Wednesday by again asking Klein to grant its motion for an emergency injunction.
The school district has a five-year contract for student transportation with McKeesport-based Pennsylvania Coach Lines that continues through the 2024-25 school year.
According to court filings, on Monday, Superintendent Mark Holtzman Jr. contacted David Sunstein, president of Pennsylvania Coach Lines, to demand the removal of a driver who criticized McKeesport students on her personal Facebook wall.
“I have to do 20+ write ups a day for the same kids and the school isn’t doing shit to have my back,” the driver wrote, according to the court filings. “So when I am in an accident because I’m hit in the face with a pen, let's see what people have to say because mark my word it’s going to happen.”
The driver called McKeesport Area students “bad ass, disrespectful and down right nasty,” according to a court filing.
In their emergency motion, attorneys Ray Middleman, April Morgan Hincy and Shane Valenzi of Eckert, Seamans, Cherin & Mellott, which represents Pennsylvania Coach Lines, said Holtzman’s demand was tantamount to “physical intimidation” and was a deliberate attempt to force the company to breach its contract with the school district.
The bus company’s attorneys also argued that because it warned the school district back on Aug. 26 that it was suffering a shortage of drivers, it was not in breach of contract.
Since the beginning of the school year, McKeesport Area officials have said, Pennsylvania Coach Lines has canceled buses at least 10 times — often repeatedly on the same route — stranding hundreds of students or making them late for school.
Propel Charter School and Young Scholars of Greater Allegheny Charter School, whose students also ride McKeesport Area buses, have intervened in the legal action on the district’s side.
Attorneys for the bus company noted that in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, school districts across the country are reporting difficulties hiring and retaining bus drivers.
“Despite the well-documented lack of available school bus drivers, McKeesport and intervening defendants have repeatedly brought motions before this court seeking to compel Pennsylvania Coach to either conjure additional drivers from thin air, or grant defendants leave to violate the transportation contract at issue by contracting with a third party to provide additional transportation services to the district,” the attorneys said this week.
Pennsylvania Coach Lines argued it has trouble staffing McKeesport Area bus routes due to “severe behavioral issues” and the refusal of students to wear masks.
The bus company’s attorneys argued that Holtzman’s demand that the driver be removed was “nothing more than a transparent attempt to manufacture an additional breach on behalf of Pennsylvania Coach in advance of the parties’ upcoming appearance before this court ... This duplicitous strategy must not be countenanced.”
The school district responded that the bus company is using “student behavior” as “a subterfuge ... to distract the court from the fact that it is breaching the transportation agreement on a daily basis.”
Pennsylvania Coach Lines is trying to “place blame on these children for its breach of the transportation agreement,” wrote district Solicitor Gary Matta.
“The fact of the matter remains that (Pennsylvania Coach Lines) could not live up to its contractual obligations even if the district chose not to exercise its contractual discretion to have a driver removed, especially one who refers to students as ‘bad ass, disrespectful and down right nasty,’” Matta said.
The driver’s own behavior has exacerbated her problems with students, Matta argued, adding that the bus company’s claim that Holtzman is trying to threaten and intimidate the firm is “an illogical and baseless accusation.”
Sunstein “cannot provide the amount of service required by the contract and is looking to place blame on everyone but himself and his employees,” Matta said. “Students are being left stranded at their homes and bus stops, while (Pennsylvania Coach) makes excuses for its failure to adhere to the transportation agreement instead of solving (its) own internal issues.”
The district sought an emergency motion from Klein on Sept. 30 that would compel the company to provide service on all routes, and reimburse the district for finding alternative transportation for students.
Siana Emery is a freelance writer living in Pittsburgh’s South Hilltop. She has also written for The Mennonite World Review, Goshen College Communications and Marketing and The Goshen College Record. She may be reached at email@example.com.
Originally published October 07, 2021.