School bus confrontations putting students at risk

There is a growing problem on Minnesota school buses that is putting your children at risk. Believe it or not - it's parents.

While what they're doing isn't currently breaking a law, it is breaking rules.

Surveillance video captured a woman barging on board a school bus, targeting a child.

Despite the driver's efforts, she goes for it and tries to jump over the seats in an attempt to assault a girl she believes is bullying a young boy. 

Driver Rick Jones said that just wasn't going to happen.

“She was still kicking and screaming,” said Jones. “She was uncomfortable, I believe, but at that point I was just like this has to end.”

Incidents, like these, are not that unusual. Sometimes, the parent is angry with the driver, but usually there is something else going on.

“Their child is getting bullied by somebody else and they want to take care of it,” said John Thomas, the manager of District 112 Transportation.

“We do have parents that comply and get off the bus,” said Keith Paulson, the Anoka-Hennepin transportation director. “We've also had parents that say, ‘Says who?’ and the bus driver says, ‘Says me.’ And they just kind of blow right by the driver.”

And it's happening everywhere. 

School districts and bus companies across Minnesota tell Fox 9 they have anywhere from zero to eight incidents a year where parents are boarding school buses. The number is vague because not all incidents are reported and there are no official records kept on unauthorized riders.

“Four times in one year is a lot for us,” said Paulson. “I've been in this business for 30 years and I've probably had four in thirty years, and now we've got four in one year.”

Sometimes, the interaction is just verbal and is controlled by the driver

“We actually had an incident about six weeks ago, thankfully it didn't escalate too much except the driver and the parent situation,” said Thomas.

But Amber Pierce says her 11-year-old child was beaten and bruised on board a school bus by the mother of another child and a man she brought on board with her.

“I got a call from a police officer that said Jeremiah was being transferred to North Memorial and he had been assaulted on the bus,” said Amber Pierce, the mother.

The parents usually sneak on the bus while the driver is letting kids off the bus.

“Realistically, we don't know who the parent is,” said Thomas. “We may know the name of the parent, but we don't know their history, we don't know if they're a pedophile, a registered pedophile. We don't know what kind of a mental mode they're in, if they're sober, things of that nature, if they're carrying a weapon.”

It's such a concern Anoka-Hennepin is handing out cards to anyone who boards the bus that isn't supposed to be there. The card explains that it's distracting to the driver and offers up resources.

There's even has a training video for this very issue.

But none of it really seems to deter these parents from hopping on board. That’s possibly because there's no law that makes it actually illegal to board a school bus. Drivers, school districts and bus companies say it’s flat out dangerous.

“Right now, a parent can't walk into a school building and walk into a classroom and either talk directly to a teacher or call out another student in that classroom and really the school bus is a mobile classroom,” said Derrick Agate, the president of the Minnesota Association for Pupil Transportation.

“And using the phrase ‘I'm a taxpayer’ is not a qualifying factor,” said Thomas. “‘I'm a taxpayer.’ ‘I'm a parent.’ ‘I'll do what I want.’ Those are the statements you constantly hear.”

Right now, the legislature is considering a bill that would make it illegal for anyone other than students to board a school bus. The penalty would include a fine and possible jail time. Dozens of other states already have a law in place. It's unclear why Minnesota doesn't. School bus safety advocates say it's if it passes, it will help keep kids safe.

“It's the quick and easy way for the law enforcement to step in and talk to the adult and say, ‘You broke the law,’” said Thomas.

Since Amber Pierce's case escalated to violence, police are investigating the case for possible assault. But she still can't believe the first step on board wasn't illegal.

“That's crazy to me,” said Pierce. “I thought I was going to go fight about how they didn't abide by some law. Here it is, there's not one in place, which is really scary because you don't know what people's intentions are.”

Rick Jones says most bus drivers truly care about the kids on board their bus.

“I am there to get them home safely and to protect them from any hurt, harm or danger,” said Jones.

But he also said they need help.

“It ended up being a happy ending, but that's not necessarily always going to happen if we don't get change,” said Jones.

Currently at the Capitol, a bill to criminalize trespassing on a school bus is in conference committee. However, it still has a long way to go before it gets to Governor Dayton's desk to become a law.