‘Tears were frozen to his face’: Bemidji bus driver resigns after forcing child to walk home in the cold
WILTON – A 6-year-old boy was forced to walk a quarter-mile home in freezing temperatures last week after a school bus driver refused to let the child off the bus at his house.
According to Daryl Bohn and Amber Thayer, their younger son, Darrion, tried to disembark the bus after his 8-year-old brother, Devin, was let off at their driveway after school last Wednesday.
But the bus driver physically held Darrion back and shut the door in his face, driving him a quarter-mile down the road and making him walk home in the cold as punishment for not following directions, they said.
“Devin said tears were frozen to (Darrion’s) face,” Thayer said.
Bemidji School District Superintendent Jim Hess said the probationary school bus driver resigned his position after the district undertook an investigation into the incident.
“The district always takes allegations regarding student safety seriously,” Hess said.
Hess said he could not release the name of the bus driver because it is private data.
Bohn and Thayer are angry about the situation, wondering why they have not been allowed to see a video recording of the boys’ bus ride home.
“If I grabbed a 6-year-old kid, I’d be in jail right now,” Bohn said.
Thayer said she has filed a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education, which told her it would investigate the incident and review any available video-surveillance.
“(The school district) tried to make it sound like, ‘OK this guy’s gone now, so the problem’s gone now,’” Thayer said. “They almost made me feel bad the guy lost his job.”
Darrion, who has special needs, said he was wearing a coat but didn’t have mittens or boots that afternoon.
“As parents, you prepare your child for winter, but you don’t wake up saying, ‘I’m going to prepare my child to walk home in 30-below weather,’” Thayer said.
That day was among the year’s coldest, with temperatures that morning dropping to 21 below zero, according the National Weather Service.
Jennifer Ritterling, a meteorologist with the NWS in Grand Forks, N.D., said unofficial data showed the temperatures to be about 10 above zero around 3:30 p.m. in Bemidji. With the wind blowing at about 5 mph, she said, the wind chill would have been about 1 degree.
Bohn, a facility manager at the Red Lake casino, said he was on a crew doing roof repairs. The work took more than two hours because they could only go outside for 20 minutes at a time.
Bohn said he wasn’t sure he could even watch a videotape of the incident. Thayer said her fear is that it will show the incident to be worse than how Devin described it.
“(The school district) thinks of this as a closed case,” she said. “I’m not OK with that. I don’t know the full story.”
Thayer said she also is bothered by not knowing what actions were, or were not taken, by a bus monitor who was present during the incident.
Hess said bus monitors are assigned to routes that have a certain number of special-education students or to buses that travel significant distances.
To his knowledge, Hess said, the bus monitor assigned to that route was present that afternoon. Hess said he did not know the details of that individual’s actions.
“The bottom line – what bothers me – is he’s a child with a disability,” Thayer said. “They should have took that into consideration when they made the decision that they made.”
Darrion, who has difficulty identifying and expressing his emotions, claims he doesn’t remember the incident, Thayer said.
After coming home, he slept from 5 to 9 p.m. that night, which is uncharacteristic of the usually active first-grader, Thayer said. When she did ask him what happened, Thayer said his eyes welled up, his voice got raspy and he started to cry, saying he didn’t remember.
Bohn said he imagines the experience was “traumatizing” for the boy.
Thayer said the bus driver was “punishing” Darrion, who has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, because he had not obeyed the bus driver’s demands that he sit down in his seat.
When Thayer called the transportation office that evening to file a complaint, she said the supervisor immediately knew why she was calling about because the bus driver reported what happened.
“(The supervisor) said, ‘This is not OK. I’m very upset by this and we’re going to look into this,’” Thayer recalled.
The boys all year have had a different bus driver in the mornings and afternoons, Thayer said, noting that they never before had problems with bus drivers.
Since the incident, Thayer said, the boys have not taken the bus home and she doesn’t foresee that changing this year, though the boys do continue to ride the bus in the mornings.