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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Former Frazier Mountain High bus driver Chuy Saldana stands in front of the Frazier Mountain High School sign and buses he used to drive.

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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Former Frazier Mountain High bus driver, Chuy Saldana stands in front of the Frazier Mountain High School sign and busses he use to drive. Former Frazier Mountain High bus driver, Chuy Saldana stands in front of the Frazier Mountain High School sign and busses he use to drive.

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Rod Thornburg / Special to The Californian

Loyal school bus riders Devon Carroll, left, and Logan Thomas, center, greet and show their support for former Frazier Mountain High bus driver Chuy Saldana, right, Friday. Saldana remembers these former students when they were younger.

They've held a sit-in outside campus. They've written to school board trustees and reached out to the media. And a Facebook page devoted to the effort had 124 "likes" Thursday.

Students, parents and other community members in the mountain communities around Frazier Park are rallying behind a school bus driver dismissed after a Jan. 20 incident involving a boy whose mother ran over his foot at a bus stop.

There's no clear agreement as to what exactly happened that day but Jesus "Chuy" Saldana is gone after driving El Tejon- and Frazier Park-area students to and from school for a decade -- and after two retirements.

"They said, 'You're terminated, and we no longer need your service. We don't want to get sued,'" the 37-year bus driver said quoting the district. "It's just not right."

He's asking for an apology from the school district.

Meanwhile, El Tejon Unified Superintendent Katie Kleier said Saldana was not fired. He is a substitute, part-time employee with the district, and officials have decided they do not need his services as a bus driver.

"Because he doesn't have a contract with us, he has the ability to say, 'I don't want to work,'" Kleier said. "We have the same right."

Kleier said the decision was not because of the alleged accident, but wouldn't get specific because it's a personnel matter. The district has since offered Saldana a custodial position, she said.

Saldana has not accepted the job, and is not satisfied with the offer because it hasn't come with an apology.

"I did nothing wrong," he said.

What actually happened on Jan. 20 has been debated.

Julie Nichols told The Mountain Enterprise that the school bus arrived early so she rushed in her car to drop off her son to catch it. As her son got out of the car, the bus rolled back and Nichols panicked and reversed, she said. In doing so, she ran over her son's foot, and he suffered a toe fracture.

She advised the school's office later not because she wanted to sue, but for the "safety of other children," Nichols told the Enterprise. She could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, other witnesses told the Enterprise that Nichols was late, not the bus, and the bus did not roll back. Saldana also said he was on time, as always, and the bus did not roll back. In fact, he had no idea anything happened until he was called in to talk with district officials.

The students say Saldana's dismissal is unfair. Last week, Frazier Mountain High School students rallied on Facebook. An "El Tejon Unified Sit-In" page had 124 "likes" Thursday.

On Jan. 25, about 200 students ditched class and held the protest, said junior Tony Levesque. They chanted, "Chuy, Chuy," and interviewed with local and television media, before the media was shooed away by administrators.

Saldana has known some of those kids since they were in grade school, he said, and think of his as a grandfather figure. Levesque has known Saldana since he was in third grade.

"He's the best bus driver," he said. "He gets to the bus stops on time, and he's a nice guy. He treats us like we're actually good people."

Levesque added: "I think it's dumb they would get rid of him."

Saldana said of his relationship with students: "I respect them and they give me that respect back. I just told them, 'Don't get in trouble by protesting.'"

Several students involved in the protests have been called into the office, gotten in-school suspensions and assigned Saturday school, Levesque said. Superintendent Kleier confirmed the punishments, saying it was the consequence for not being in class.

"They have a right to protest, but if they're not where they're supposed to be, there's a consequence for that," she said.

Saldana, 69, retired as a bus driver in Los Angeles and has retired twice before from El Tejon Unified bus driving duties. Each time, the district has asked him to come back, he said. This time, if it calls back, he's not sure he'll return.

"They fired me for no reason. I wouldn't feel happy working in a place like that," he said.

For Susan Graves, a Frazier Park resident for nearly a dozen years, the loss of Saldana is a big one for the area, she said. She's been among the most vocal against the district's actions, sending messages to district trustees seeking change to the way employees are dismissed.

"We all just adore him," Graves said.