Credit: Kayleigh Skinner, Mississippi Today

The school board for the Greenville Public School District said there was not enough evidence to determine whether the absences of 16 of the district’s 20 bus drivers in late April constituted a strike. 

The alleged strike occurred over two days. On the first day, 15 bus drivers did not come to work. On the second, 16 did not show. 

Several drivers spoke with media outlets, including Mississippi Today, and said they were protesting poor working conditions and low pay.

In the month following, the school board asked its attorney Dorian Turner to gather documentation so the members could determine whether a strike, which is illegal in Mississippi, occurred. In the event of a strike, state law requires school board members to submit the names of those involved in the work stoppage to the attorney general.

Turner did so, but the board decided it was not enough information for them to make a decision. In a July 29 letter to the Attorney General’s office, school board attorney Dorian Turner wrote that due to “conflicting information,” the board could not make a “definitive determination” about the events of those two days. 

“They (the school board) could not make a definitive decision,” Turner told Mississippi Today. “We decided to turn it over to the AG’s office … and say ‘Here’s the information they looked at, and we’re handing it over in an effort to make sure we’re doing what we’re supposed to do’ according to the law.”

As a result, the attorney general’s office will not take any action, it told the school district.

“In the absence of a finding by the Board that any individual has engaged in a strike pursuant to (state law,) there is nothing at this time to certify to the AGO,” wrote Deputy Attorney General Whitney Lipscomb in an Aug. 31 letter to the district

The bus drivers in April cited their disapproval of the school board’s decision to reduce their work days — and thus, their pay — for the following school year. The board, after the two-day work stoppage, reversed that decision. 

Shortly after, Turner advised the school board it should consider undoing the restoration of the work days.

“It looked to me that what we had is a situation where bus drivers had gone on strike, and that was activity that was illegal and the board should consider undoing the restoration of those days,” Turner said at a special called board meeting on May 6, just several days after the supposed strike occurred. 

The board did not follow Turner’s advice to revisit the vote and delayed making any decisions on the matter for two months. 

Mississippi law prohibits public employees from striking. The law defines a strike as “a concerted failure to report for duty, a willful absence from one’s position, the stoppage of work, a deliberate slowing down of work, or the withholding, in whole or in part, of the full, faithful and proper performance of the duties of employment, for the purpose of inducing, influencing or coercing a change in the conditions, compensation, rights, privileges or obligations of public employment.”

The law also states school board members shall certify the names of employees who go on strike to the attorney general or be subject to a misdemeanor conviction and daily fines. 

Turner included supplemental information in her letter to the attorney general, including documents showing that every driver who was absent on those two days submitted documentation requesting those days as a sick day. She also said drivers were not paid for those two days after the district advised each driver a doctor’s excuse would be required to be paid. 

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Kate Royals is a Jackson native and returned to Mississippi Today as the lead education reporter after serving in the same capacity from 2016 to 2018. Prior to that, she was a reporter for the Clarion-Ledger covering education and state government. She won awards for her investigative work, including stories about the state’s campaign finance laws and prison system. She was a news producer at MassLive in Springfield, Mass., after graduating from Louisiana State University’s Manship School of Mass Communications with a master’s degree in communications.