Author Archives: peggyburns
I’ve written a book about it. I’ve given presentations about it. I’ve made it a focus of my career to teach school transportation professionals how to make a legally defensible decision. With all of that, however, I’m not sure I’ve distilled anyplace just what a legally defensible decision is. Here’s what I don’t mean: some decisions are poor decisions, but because of legal technicalities, or state governmental immunity statutes, or even poor lawyering on the part of the parent’s counsel, the school district will win. In other words you have a legal defense, but not because you did something right.
Instead, I mean a decision you can defend with a straight face because it made sense given all of the information you had at your disposal, or would have had if you’d exercised due diligence. . . . even if it didn’t turn out well. You did the best you could under all the circumstances – because your best is still limited by the fact that you’re only human – but a student was hurt, or worse.
Here’s what a defensible decision looks like:
- You had and used a process for making the decision
- It’s the product of objective reasoning with a basis you can articulate
- You can point to behavior that reasonably demonstrates your concern for the student involved
- It complies with applicable law, regulation and your own policy
- When there isn’t a big fat elephant in the room that betrays the fact that your decision could never work, or is directly contrary to anyone’s common sense, or flies in the face of the law. Basically, it passes the “straight-faced” test: you can convey it with a straight face.
As I wrote for an article in the forthcoming November 2014 issue of Legal Routes, “When Sue Shutrump and Charley Kennington asked about including my 2003 Information Report for NASDPTS, “Sharing Student Health and Medical Information with School Transporters” in the Appendix of the NHTSA 8 hour course, I frankly balked at their publicizing this 10-year old document in light of subsequent changes in law, regulation and guidance. When Sue and Charley were kind enough to grant me extra time to update the Report if I wished to do so, I could hardly say no.” Read the rest of this entry
I talk about compliance a lot, but don’t always think about what it means in a practical or personal sense. I actively seek to comply always with my value system. On the other hand, I know I don’t always comply with posted speed limits. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about being a “victim” of someone else’s duty to comply – that is, until a Southwest flight I took from Kansas City to Chicago last week to work with a major school bus company.
Last Wednesday, President Obama was in my new home town to deliver an 11 am speech. I had a 12:40 flight out of KCI. The Southwest gate agent stressed that we’d be striving for an efficient boarding process; the incoming plane we’d be on was a few minutes late, and passengers would be de-planing and airline staff cleaning the plane as quickly as possible. The urgency was the need to take off before the “VIP traffic” at the airport – it didn’t take much to figure out what that was about – caused the airport to close down to incoming or outbound traffic. Such closure would be for an indeterminate length of time. So, Southwest’s usual standard of on-time departure meant even more than usual to the airline and to the passengers on my completely full flight, many of whom had connections to make at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Read the rest of this entry
Three weeks ago, we were burglarized. My home is in a very safe area, in a very nice – but certainly not ritzy – neighborhood. We have an alarm system, but did not have it armed for the short time we were out to dinner. All that was taken was a 55 inch TV set, the 3 HDMI cables that “go” with it, and a wireless subwoofer. For some reason, they left the sound bar. The culprits smashed the glass in the French door of our walk-out basement, opened the luck, and gained access. One dirty footprint on the lowest stairs to our main level suggests to us that we may have interrupted them before they could get upstairs and continue their work. It’s quite a distance from our lower level door to the street, so the act seems especially brazen and reckless. Read the rest of this entry
Just as I’m willing to acknowledge my skills and accomplishments, I am comfortable admitting my short suits and failures. From time to time I’ve shared that I’ve always worked outside my home because I’m so much more confident in my professional arena than I am in certain areas of my personal arena. My husband and grown children seem to think I’ve done a pretty good job but, even they would admit I lack much ability to diagnose, repair, or evaluate some essential technology-dependent functions in my home. That’s why the company that provides me with a “bundle” of phone service, TV, and internet is such a part of my life – I’m dependent upon them for communication, entertainment and research. And I have disliked them intensely because, during the last 3 or 4 months, they’ve all but taken over my life – not just a part of it. Allow me to vent (by the way – they don’t seem to want to hear me vent when I call, and, 5 times out of 6, struggle to find my 2-year account, and totally overlook that they’re hardly the only show in town, and I could easily switch to a competitor. And we plan to!) Read the rest of this entry
I learned a lesson this week about making hasty choices. I’m in a book club – it has nothing to do with pupil transportation or the law, and I just love it. The club has met, since before I joined, at a local large book store that is quite close to my home. The members come from surrounding towns, and some of them have had to travel quite a distance for many years to come to our once-a-month meeting. Recently, one of our members suggested having a trial meeting at a new library branch that is quite a bit more convenient for these more northern ladies, while still fairly convenient for those of us who live closer to the book store. We all understood that the purpose of the trial was a possible move. After a most enjoyable meeting there this week, we planned a vote on the three choices now available to us: to switch to the library, to stay at the bookstore, or to have meetings at the library for 6 months, followed by meetings at the bookstore. Read the rest of this entry
The district is considering contracting-out services, and your position is on the line. You have data – both hard and soft – demonstrating the negative side of such a move. But wouldn’t presentation of your case just be an obvious attempt to look out for yourself?
There’s more talk about budget cuts, and the need to combine positions. Personnel will, inevitably be, on the chopping block. This is the time to sing your own praises – and, in fact, you’re more versatile and adaptable than others in the department. Although your self-interest meshes with the company’s interests, won’t you just look like an opportunist if you speak up?
Many of us engage in a year-round search for balance between wanting to be anonymous and wanting to be noticed, wanting to give and hoping to receive, wanting to appear humble and needing to represent your strengths in a forthright manner. This drive for reconciliation of opposing emotions was at the foundation of my obsession yesterday about an article sent to me by my co-consultant with Education Compliance Group, good friend, and most respected HR professional Mark Hinson. His cover email stated “Interesting article making the case for sexual harassment training in person.” Mark had recognized an opportunity for us to publicize the valuable training and consultation services we offer via Education Compliance Group on employee-employee sexual harassment.
The December 9, 2013 article, by a respected consultant/ trainer in Mark’s region strongly implies that recent court opinions on a particular workplace sexual harassment case had blasted the use of a training video, shown to both employees and management alike, which provided “no opportunity for interactive dialog with a professional trainer.” In fact, the case that triggered the article is nearly two years old. While inferences could be drawn about the courts’ preferences for in-person training, the judicial opinions involved were far more vague about the necessity for specific training methods.
The article’s author knew a good publicity angle when she saw it. I found it somewhat self-serving, but was – and am – absolutely ready to get on the bandwagon with a Legal Routes article about the value of our in-services about employee-to-employee sexual harassment. You see, I have the guts to self-serve if it’s in my readers’ and colleagues’ best interests. I’ll segue into discussion about my initial forays into using Skype and other methods to provide cost-effective front-row, interactive training to school transporters without my ever having to get on a plane. I believe completely in the absolute benefits an entity can gain by having customized training programs with an instructor at the site who can help personnel understand what the issues mean to them. I soundly buy into in the comparative value of a “real” person, available to tailor training to the needs of a particular state, region, company, or district over a generic video product – let alone, one that may be stale or not directly relevant to the industry.
The question is not the value of the service available, but the motive of the person advocating use of the service. With mixed motives, should the potential to be seen as too obvious, too opportunistic water down my approach.
It’s a broader question, if you’ll follow me down the crossroads of my mind and tie these questions into the scenarios at the beginning of this blog. What if you have an idea that will benefit students but also show off your talents and strategies? What if you see the value of creation of a new position that you’re just the person to fill? Are you hesitant to advance your ideas – especially if you stand to gain from adoption? How do you feel about shameless self-promotion. . . .if it would be good for your organization and its mission?
Well, I’m going to push ahead with my article. I’m banking on Legal Routes subscribers focusing more on the points I’ll make about training concerns and less on the fact that I’m shamelessly marketing my company’s services. I think it comes down to this: If the people you serve will be better off because you spoke up, then speak up. What do you think?
I did it again. I said the words “If I can help. . .” without thinking through the implications. This time, I was offering to babysit a neighbor’s children. When I said it two weeks ago to a brand new acquaintance, she emailed me within days to ask if I could take her to a doctor’s appointment (I couldn’t, and I didn’t). I told a fellow member of a social organization to which I belong to “call me if you need anything,” despite the fact that I’m truly booked out through Thanksgiving. My frequent offers to help – well-intended though misguided – are symptomatic of my tendency to overcommit. I genuinely wish I could be “there” for everyone. Maybe it takes guts I’ve not yet developed to refrain from offering more than I can give. Read the rest of this entry