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School bus driver loses job after condemning explicit books

The Idaho man has sued his former employer

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School bus driver loses job after condemning explicit books

An Idaho bus driver filed suit against the Salmon River Joint School District for violating his rights under the First Amendment, saying the district fired him for publicly disagreeing with school policy.

When Keith Markley learned of sexually explicit books in district libraries, he brought his concerns to the school superintendent and a member of the school board. On Feb. 1, the Idaho County Free Press published Markley’s letter to the editor titled “The bully at my door,” in which he said a school counselor’s webpage promoted “foul websites.” In the letter, Markley begged for the school to “protect our children from sexually obscene material and [influence] by adjusting school policy to abide by Idaho state law.” On Feb. 9, the district terminated Markley’s employment.

In March, the legal nonprofit Pacific Justice Institute filed suit against the school district for violating Markley’s First Amendment free speech rights. PJI President Brad Dacus told WORLD that Markley “has a real love and passion for the children” while describing the district’s actions as “an egregious breach of federal trust.”

“When he discovered that the school library contained materials that the average parent would find highly objectionable—dealing with sex, sexuality, and the like—he was very concerned,” Dacus said. “He wanted to speak up for the kids and at the same time, make the parents aware of what their children were being exposed to.”

PJI attorney Katherine Hartley noted the similarities between Markley’s case and the 1968 Supreme Court case Pickering v. Board of Education, which first established the right of public employees to free expression. “This school district’s rejection of such well-established law is alarming and must be corrected in federal court,” Hartley said in a news release.

Although no trial dates have been set, both sides have demanded a jury trial, and Dacus said the nonprofit is prepared to take the case to the Supreme Court if necessary. Markley is seeking compensatory damages.

Dacus describes Markley as a government whistleblower and said he should receive applause instead of punishment. “Without people like him, corruption in government, and specifically in school districts, can only flourish,” Dacus said.

The district’s decision to terminate Markley comes amid a nationwide bus driver shortage in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. In February, Brett Wester, upstate New York regional manager for a company that owns school bus operators, told the Times Union that schools still lacked enough drivers. “When COVID hit, a lot of people decided that that extra cash that they made with us was not worth it to be sitting on a bus with 40, 50, 60 kids that could have COVID and spread it to them,” he said.

Although the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts a 12 percent growth in bus-driving jobs by 2031, many districts struggle to get drivers on buses. Dacus describes the timing of Salmon River’s move as “very ironic,” saying that “sometimes government actions aren’t always logical or rational.”

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.


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