Suit: Bemidji school bus driver forced boy to walk in cold as punishment

  • Article by: RANDY FURST , Star Tribune
  • Updated: April 8, 2014 - 8:41 PM

Bemidji school bus driver forced a 6-year-old to walk in subzero windchill in Feb. 2013 to teach him a lesson.

The 6-year-old boy with a behavior disorder had been acting up on the school bus, so for punishment, the driver allegedly prevented him from getting off at the bus stop near his home and instead dropped him off .14 miles a way.

It was only 10 degrees above zero, minus 2 with the windchill, and when the boy arrived at his home in Wilton, Minn., after a five to 10-minute walk, he was crying and fearful he would never see his family again, according to a judge magistrate’s summary.

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Michael Davis dismissed two of the counts of a federal lawsuit filed by the boy’s mother, but allowed one allegation to remain in the case against the Bemidji area school district.

Davis adopted the recommendations of U.S. Magistrate Judge Leo Brisbois, who cited another Minnesota court case that concluded that whether an employee acted within the scope of his employment “is ordinarily a question of fact for the jury.”

The incident occurred on Feb. 20, 2013. The bus driver, Nickolas Hargett, resigned five days later, the same day the boy’s mother filed a mistreatment complaint with the Minnesota Department of Education.

The department decided not to bring criminal charges against Hargett. But it later determined that Hargett had neglected the boy, which constituted maltreatment under state law, but that he “did not suffer any physical consequences.”

Classified a special-ed student

The boy is identified only as D.B. in the lawsuit, and his mother as A.T. to keep the youth’s name confidential.

He was diagnosed with emotional behavior disorder and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder in 2012 when he and his older brother attended Central Elementary School in Be­midji. The district classified him as a special-education student.

On the day of the incident, several students were in and out of their seats while the bus was moving, including the 6-year-old, who crossed the aisle and hit or kicked his 8-year-old brother. Both the driver and the bus monitor instructed the 6-year-old to remain in his seat.

According to court documents, the boy did not comply, and at one point Hargett stopped the bus and ordered the boy to move to a seat at the front. The boy did not comply and the bus remained stopped for about 12 minutes. Hargett then walked back and pulled the boy by his wrists to a standing position, whereupon the boy went limp and Hargett lowered him to the floor. Hargett then resumed driving and reached the boy’s house in about 20 minutes.

The boy walked to the front of the bus but Hargett told him to “go back and sit down,” Brisbois wrote. Hargett allowed the older brother to exit but closed the doors with the 6-year-old standing in the stairwell. He then drove the boy to the next regular stop and allowed him to exit.

‘A healthy consequence’

When the boy got home, he was crying and had suffered psychological and emotional traumas and appeared to be “angry, fearful … and finds it difficult to trust adults,” according to the suit.

Hargett said in a subsequent interview that he dropped the boy at the further bus stop to “give a healthy and immediate consequence for his actions on the bus.”

The boy’s mother later confronted school district employees and administrators, “who first promised to look into the incident and who later discussed aspects of their investigation with her.” However, the district has not allowed the mother to review the recorded video of the incident and generally refused to discuss the video’s contents. After Hargett quit, the district declared the incident closed.

Attorneys for the school district and the boy’s mother did not return phone calls Tuesday.

 

Randy Furst • 612-673-4224

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