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St. Louis-area school bus drivers call off en masse after noose found near desk

A red stop sign against a yellowschool bus.
Brent Jones
St. Louis Public Radio
St. Louis Public Schools' bus drivers called off en masse after a noose was found last week near a worker's desk at Missouri Central Bus. Some drivers say its an attempt to keep them from speaking out against poor working conditions.

Thousands of students within the St. Louis Public School District were left without a way to and from school after bus drivers didn’t show up to work on Monday and Tuesday this week, following allegations of racism against their employer, Missouri Central Bus.

Nearly 100 bus drivers called off sick on Monday after a diesel mechanic, Amin Mitchell, found a noose last week near his work station. The workers rallied at a local park on Monday to support Mitchell, who said he found the noose near his station a day after having an argument with his manager, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Screen grab of alleged noose found near Missouri Central Bus worker station.
Amin Mitchell
via Facebook
A noose was allegedly found last week near the workstation of Missouri Central Bus diesel mechanic, Amin Mitchell. He’s claims it was a racist act, which allegedly happened after the worker had a disagreement with his supervisor about fixing the brake systems on some school buses.

On Tuesday morning, 72 drivers called out and 68 drivers called out in the afternoon, Missouri Central said.

Mitchell, who is Black, alleges his white supervisor requested he make bare minimum fixes to bus brake systems so they could pass inspection last Friday, despite Mitchell’s concerns that some brakes weren’t fully serviced and others needed to be replaced, the newspaper reported. The company provides bus services for St. Louis Public Schools, the Ladue and University City school districts and Voluntary Interdistrict Choice Corp., commonly known as the desegregation program.

The St. Louis Public School District said Tuesday thousands of children and their families are being impacted by the driver walkout. George Sells, a spokesman for the district, said 56 routes were left uncovered Tuesday morning and afternoon due to the Missouri Central dispute. This is the district’s second year contracting with the bus company, he said.

After-school activities were canceled on Monday and again on Tuesday due to the dispute. After-care at the schools will continue as normal and parent pick-up will also follow normal timing and procedures, the district said.

Athletics are being handled on a school-by-school basis, and officials are encouraging parents to contact their school’s athletic director for more details.

Sells said they’re doing their best to maximize the number of routes that can be covered by the buses that are available. Families are being asked to transport their kids to and from school, if possible.

“Some have been able to take on this burden,” Sells said in a statement. “Others are unable. The allegations that surfaced Friday from the Missouri Central bus depot are upsetting, and it is our hope that management at Missouri Central will get to the bottom of what is clearly unacceptable behavior.

“The families of Saint Louis Public Schools should not be the ones left suffering in this situation.”

The noose

Mitchell took to Facebook on Sunday in a live video to speak against claims that he staged the noose himself. He said he arrives at work at 5 a.m. every morning and another tech worker has to let him inside the building.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Mitchell said in the video. “The time frames don’t even add up. I’m not even there at the time any of this could have possibly happened. It was put there for me to see. I’m cool, I ain’t tripping. I just got to have my head on a swivel a little bit more, I got to watch myself a little bit more.”

Mitchell said in a Facebook post on Feb. 22 that he’s been filing prejudice complaints at least twice a week against two of his supervisors since he’s been working at Missouri Central. He said he has been very uncomfortable at work in the few months he’s been employed there.

“Today I had enough!” the Facebook post reads. “I came into work this morning and found a NOOSE!”

Another video posted to his page shows footage of a rope with a noose tie laying on the ground. The Laborers’ International Union of North America is representing the drivers.

But this isn’t the first time the school district has had issues with bus shortages.

Former St. Louis Public Schools Superintendent Kelvin Adams in August 2022 suspended bus service for eight schools after Missouri Central failed to hire enough drivers to cover the district’s nearly 17,000 students amid a nationwide driver shortage.

The district at the time offered families weekly gas or metro cards to get through the temporary transportation disruption, while many parents struggled to figure out how to get their kids to school.

Scott Allen, the regional operations manager at Missouri Central Bus, said in an emailed statement that it’s their policy to foster a work environment that is welcoming to everyone regardless of age, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. Allen said Tuesday an independent third party has now been hired to investigate the allegations.

“There is zero tolerance for any behavior that violates this policy,” the statement reads. “... We will take whatever action is deemed necessary based on what we learn. We are working diligently to minimize service disruptions for our students, families, and administrators as we understand how important it is for our children to be educated.”

Lacretia Wimbley is a general assignment reporter for St. Louis Public Radio.