St. Tammany school bus driver questioned about drug use

St. Tammany Parish school bus driver Robert Hesson testified at a tenure hearing Tuesday that he was not taking Oxycodone while he was driving for the school system in 2011.

He also denied pleading guilty to a misdemeanor charge in Mississippi that he was in possession of crystal meth in the summer of 2011.

But St. Tammany Parish School Board members sharply questioned Hesson about his decision not to take a medical exam for his commercial driver’s license in July of that year, something that board member Ray Alfred said is a requirement for drivers.

Alfred also questioned Hesson’s refusal to provide pharmacy records to his superiors.

The School Board did not vote on Hesson’s fate as of press time Tuesday night. The board went into executive session to discuss the case after hearing closing arguments from lawyers for both sides.

Hesson’s tenure hearing began earlier in the month, when the school administration brought four charges against him. Two of them were for failing to report two drug arrests in the summer of 2011, which school system attorney Harry Pastuszek Jr. said violates the school system’s collective bargaining agreement.

Hesson also was charged with failing to report a guilty plea to the system for the Mississippi charge and with willful refusal to provide his pharmacy records.

Hesson’s attorney, Charles Branton, argued earlier in the hearing that his client was not on regular duty in June 2011 when he was arrested in Mississippi and then a few weeks later when he was arrested in St. Tammany Parish for possession of Oxycodone.

Branton argued Hesson didn’t violate the system’s rules because the arrests happened in the summer when he was not reporting for regular duty.

The St. Tammany Parish District Attorney’s Office refused the charges against Hesson, Branton said, noting that the bus driver had a prescription for the Oxycodone.

But Pastuszek hammered at Hesson during cross-examination, asking him whether he had filled the Oxycodone prescription in April and refilled it in May and again in June.

Branton objected to the line of questioning repeatedly, saying it went beyond the scope of the charges.

“My client is entitled to a fair shake, and he’s not getting it,’’ Branton said.

But School Board members asked Hesson whether he understood that he was still an employee during the summer and later, while he was on extended sick leave.

“We can’t allow you or anyone else to transport children,’’ while taking controlled substances, board member Ronald Bettencourtt said.

“It’s a bunch of little lives at stake, and we need you to understand that and tell us that you understand that,’’ Bettencourtt said.

Pastuszek, in his concluding statement, said that Hesson decided to play lawyer and game the system. But he still had a duty to report the arrests, Pastuszek said.

“We are his employer and we have the right ... to know precisely at all times what kind of controlled substances he is taking,’’ Pastuszek said.

Refusing to provide that information is willful neglect of duty and insubordination, he said.