The yellow school bus is an iconic form of transportation that has provided a longstanding service to families by picking up their children and driving them to school. As a school provided service, bus drivers are trained on how to operate the bus and abide by road regulations in order to safely transport student riders back and forth from school. Although bus driver training prepares drivers to respond to threats of child safety while on the road, what safety rules and obligations are bus drivers trained and required to follow in response to threats of child safety inside of the bus? In Gulfport, Florida, the bounds and limitations of bus safety came to light after three teens attacked a thirteen-year-old victim on the way home from school.
On July 9, three 15-year-old boys turned a 13 year-old passenger’s bus ride home from school into a nightmare when they began to punch and stomp the victim in-between the bus seats. The attack was ignited after the 13 year-old filed a complaint with the school against one of the attackers alleging he tried to sell the victim drugs. As the victim was held between the seats screaming for help, Pinellas County school bus driver John Moody radioed for assistance.
“Get somebody out here quick, quick, quick!” said the driver, 64 year-old Moody in his radio call for help. “They’re about to beat this boy to death! There’s nothing I can do… please send somebody!”
As the assault continued, Moody told the boys to stop and to leave the victim alone. And although Moody stopped the bus, Moody did not make an attempt to physically break up the fight. The attack was recorded by one of the students on the bus and was posted on the internet after the police decided not to press child neglect charges against Moody.
The Gulfport police stated that Moody followed the Pinellas County school district policy on bus safety and was not obligated to physically break up the fight. The police explained that a bus driver’s training may serve to ensure bus vehicle safety premised on bus operation and compliance with general safety road regulations, but the driver’s responsibilities and obligations in response to incidents that occur inside of the bus are limited.
To speak further on the matter, school district Officer Melanie Marquez Parra commented that the driver’s handbook requires bus drivers to alert dispatch whenever a fight breaks out on the bus. Dispatch will then call 911 if necessary.
“The reason they do this is because they can do it right away, and they can do it while driving,” Parra explained. “Every situation is going to be different, so a driver needs to determine what is a reasonable measure for them to take, keeping the safety of all students on the bus as a priority.”
The attackers punched and stomped the unnamed victim 27 times. The boy suffered various injuries including two black eyes and a broken arm.
On August 27, 2013, the attackers appeared in juvenile court for their second court appearance and pled guilty to charges of aggravated battery. One boy also pled guilty to one count of robbery for stealing $5 from the victim after the assault.
All three boys were sentenced to indefinite probation subject to the following conditions: community service, random drug testing, and ankle bracelets for as long as 60 days. In addition to these probationary measures, the teens must also take anger management classes, abide by a mandatory curfew, and stay away from the victim.
In addition, if the teens and the victim ultimately attend the same high school at the same time, the teen attackers have the “burden” to leave the school and enroll into a different one.
The boy that pled guilty to the one count of robbery was also sentenced to pay $5 in restitution back to the victim and to serve additional community service.
As for the bus driver, Moody retired shortly after the incident took place.
A special thanks to Melissa Cefalu, a law clerk at Cullen and Dykman LLP, for help with this post.