ATLANTA – A former Cobb County school bus driver claims she was fired for speaking publicly at board of education meetings.

Wanda Smith, a district driver for 21 years, says her right to free speech was violated in a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Atlanta. Smith was terminated in April 2009. She had been driving a special needs bus.

Beginning in 2008, Smith spoke during the “public comments” section of several school board meetings. At a December 2008 meeting, Smith urged the board to deny a proposal that involved putting GPS throughout the district’s fleet at a cost of about $2 million.

“We do not need the GPS,” Smith told the board. “That money could be used elsewhere in the school.”

The GPS proposal was pulled from the agenda prior to the meeting, and the school board later dropped discussion of the plan.

In the lawsuit, Smith claims her public comments led to her termination. The school system told her one of the reasons she was fired was because of “excessive” fueling of her bus, according to the suit.

Smith was fired despite an outstanding employment record, according to the lawsuit. Smith served as president of Local 249, a chapter of the Transport Workers of America, at the time she was terminated.

Smith requests a jury trial, and is seeking an undisclosed amount of damages, including back pay, loss of benefits and pain and suffering.

The school district has not yet been served with the lawsuit and declined comment.

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