MARYSVILLE – Kids who ride a school bus can become close to their drivers – they see them all the time.
That can especially be true when a student has a long bus ride to school. And it can become even more so when the student is disabled because of the help needed just getting in and out of the bus.
Tawna Decker, 19, has had the same driver, Stuart McNabb, for two years. He takes her from her home in Tulalip to her school in Duvall.
Tawna has juvenile Huntington’s disease, in which nerve cells in the brain break down over time. Her mother, Terrie Decker, said Tawna’s dad died from the disease at age 35.
Tawna is deteriorating to the point that she is dying, her mom said. It’s gotten worse over the last two years, especially since August.
Tawna wasn’t always this way. “Seven years ago she was a normal kid,” Decker said, adding her daughter used to be an A student and play volleyball and soccer. The disease was recognized in middle school when Tawna, who used to be a math whiz, struggled one day with her homework. “Mom, I don’t remember how to do this,” Decker said Tawna told her. Now, the disease has taken her speech. And when she walks, “She shuffles like an old man,” her mom said.
But everyone loves her. “Anyone who meets Tawna says she’s the sweetest little thing,” her mom said. “She loves to tease people.”
School’s her favorite
Tawna loves school – more than anything. She can continue taking special education classes until age 21, so Decker is doing whatever she can to make sure that happens.
“That’s what she wants to do until this disease takes her,” Decker said. “That’s how much she loves school.”
However, a problem developed over winter break when the Marysville School District found out Decker and her daughter are friends with McNabb.
Decker said she received an email that said Tawna would be getting a new driver. Apparently, district drivers are not supposed to share personal information with anyone they drive for.
“Are you kidding me?” Decker said was her first response. “He’s our neighbor.”
Decker said sometimes McNabb’s wife will watch Tawna. And they recently helped her move. They are also Facebook friends.
Along with living in the same community, Decker said she and McNabb had to exchange phone numbers. “If anything happened he’d have to have my number,” she said. “She’s the only one on that bus.”
Decker said she trusts McNabb, a father of seven and grandfather of 12.
“He made everything fun for Tawna,” Decker said. “He talks to her. If she’s in pain he will pull over. He’d even scratch her back. The other guy just let her be in pain. She cried from Monroe to Duvall.”
Decker said the MSD needs to change its rules, not just for Tawna but for future kids in similar situations. She said it’s impossible for the drivers of disabled kids not to touch them because they need help. “She needs to be physically held and lifted in,” Decker said, adding Tawna fell to the floor of the bus the second day with her new driver. Decker said she feels like the MSD transportation department is bullying her. So she went over their heads and appeared before the school board recently.
“My daughter’s dying. She deserves a little compassion,” Decker told the board. “Can we please have Stuart back?”
Decker was told they would meet to figure out a solution.
Decker had that follow-up meeting this week. She said she was told that the district can’t have a male driver and a female student on a bus alone if they are friends. That’s for the safety of both Tawna and the district.
“A stranger could touch a kid,” Decker countered.
They discussed having a female ride along as an aide to help Tawna on the bus.
Jason Thompson, the district’s acting superintendent, said in a prepared statement: “We did not take this matter lightly and made the decision based on what we felt was in the best interest and safety of the child. Going forward, we have also arranged for additional accommodations to further support this child.”
Wednesday, there was an aid on the bus who was male.
“I trust a friend more than a stranger,” Decker said.
Decker said McNabb has seen Tawna’s health decline the past two years, and knows how to help her. She added that in Duvall they knew all the bus drivers; they would even give Tawna Christmas presents.
Decker said it’s ridiculous to think Tawna and McNabb wouldn’t be friends as they take the hourlong trip to Duvall every day.
“How can you not be friends with a kid when you are with her that long, all day, for five days” every week?