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Judge partially throws out lawsuit against Bemidji Area Schools; Bus driver had 6-year-old walk home as punishment

MINNEAPOLIS — A U.S. District Court judge on Tuesday threw out some of the claims in a lawsuit stemming from an Febuary 2013 incident in which a Bemidji school bus driver allegedly made a 6-year-old boy with ADHD and emotional behavior disorder walk home as punishment.

Judge Michael J. Davis dismissed two of the claims brought against the Bemidji School District and the school bus driver, Nickolas Hargett.

The boy was identified only by the initials D.B. in court documents. His mother, identified as A.T., sued the School District and Hargett in October.

According to the complaint, on Feb. 20, 2013, several students on the bus were unruly, including D.B., who at one point crossed the aisle and hit his 8-year-old brother and repeatedly defied Hargett’s instructions to sit down, and later, to move to the front of the bus. After Hargett stopped the bus and waited for about 12 minutes for D.B. to move to the front, Hargett came to the rear of the bus and pulled him to his feet, the complaint alleged. D.B. went limp, and Hargett lowered him back to the floor and returned to the wheel. When it came time to drop D.B. and his brother off at their house, the complaint said, Hargett let the brother off but closed the school bus’s doors while D.B. was standing in the stairwell.

“While D.B. cried, pounded on the door and begged to be let off the bus, Hargett drove away and dropped D.B. off at a distance from his home as a ‘consequence’ for what Hargett viewed as misbehavior,” the complaint said.

Hargett drove the bus past D.B.’s house with D.B. still standing in the stairwell, the complaint said. Hargett told D.B. to sit down and D.B. complied. The complaint said it took about a minute for Hargett to circle back to a group of mailboxes about 715 feet from D.B. house, where he dropped him off.

“At no time on the route did Hargett call anyone on the radio for assistance or to obtain prior approval from the School District Transportation Center to drop D.B. at a location other than his designated drop-off point,” the complaint read.

The air temperature at the time was 2 degrees with the wind chill, the complaint said.

Hargett resigned as a bus driver later that month. The Beltrami County Attorney’s office chose not to bring criminal charges against him. An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Education found that Hargett had neglected D.B, which constitutes maltreatment under Minnesota law. However, MDE’s investigation also found that that D.B. was able walk home safely without suffering physical harm.

According to court documents, D.B. was concluded to have emotional behavior disorder by the School District in the spring of 2012. The district classified him as needing special education. In December of that year, D.B. was also diagnosed with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, or ADHD, by a doctor from the Upper Mississippi Mental Health Center in Bemidji.

Judge Davis on Tuesday threw out two claims: one the plaintiffs said arose out of violation of D.B’s rights under the Fourth, Fifth and 14th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution, and one alleging the School District maintained a pattern of “inadequately and improperly training, supervising and disciplining” its bus drivers regarding their own discipline of student riders.

Still-active claims include an assault and battery as well as false imprisonment claim against Hargett.

Judge Davis also denied the School District’s motion to dismiss a count of “vicarious liability” against the district for torts allegedly committed by Hargett as a school employee.

Attorneys for both sides did not return phone calls requesting comment.

Dr. James Hess, superintendent for the district, declined to comment and forwarded the request to the district’s attorney.