New law cracks down on trespassing on school buses

Published 4:01 pm Friday, July 12, 2013

In light of recent events earlier this year in Midland City, the Alabama legislature has taken a firm stance on the safety of students and drivers alike within the public transportation system.

The Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. Act, named in honor of the bus driver who was killed while protecting the children he transported to and from school, aims to crack down on trespassing on public school buses.

A person will be considered guilty of trespassing on a school bus if he or she is found guilty committing any of the following:

  •  Intentionally demolishing, destroying defacing, injuring, burning or damaging any public school bus
  • Entering a public school bus while the door is open to load or unload students without a lawful purpose while at a railroad grade crossing, or after being forbidden from doing so by the authorized school bus drier in charge, or upon the demand of the principal or another authorized school official
  • As an occupant of the bus, refusing to leave on demand of the bus driver in charge, or upon demand of a principal or another authorized school official
  • Intentionally stopping, impeding, delaying or detaining any school bus from being operated for public school purposes with the intent to commit a crime

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Offenders will be hit with a Class A misdemeanor for doing so, punishable by a potential $6,000 fine and up to one year in jail.

Butler County Schools Superintendent Darren Douthitt said that the new law makes it clear that school buses are to be treated with the proper reverence.

“With this act becoming law, it sends the message that if you have no reason to be on the school bus, you will be penalized for it, so I’m appreciative of it,” Douthitt said.

“I know I get very involved with issues related to the buses simply because I rode the bus every day for 12 years, and my son rides buses here in Butler County.”

Since previous trespass laws don’t specifically address the unauthorized entry of school buses here in Alabama, Douthitt expressed hope that the new law would deter any would-be offenders from engaging in such activity.

But ultimately, he said that it couldn’t possibly prevent such occurrences as the Midland City crisis from occurring altogether.

“It won’t, because we live in a day and time when we just have people who are willing to take the negative repercussion for negative actions,” Douthitt added.

But there are still precautions that can be taken to ensure the safety of children and authorized officials, and it starts with increasing awareness among all parties involved.

A sign was recently posted to the Butler County Schools Facebook page, warning that such thoughtless acts would be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.

The same message will be taken home with all students at the beginning of the fall semester so that parents can similarly remain informed.

“It means that our bus drivers have to be very aware, and even our students, because a lot of incidents happen before they get to the bus,” Douthitt said.

“A lot of times, there are signs that we see or hear about people who might put themselves in a situation to do harm to the children we serve. When that happens, we must do something about it. In Butler County, we’re very proactive so that we can deal with the problem before it becomes bigger than it needs to be.”

Douthitt said that he is considering incorporating an awareness program to accompany the new law, which could be discussed as early as the upcoming Butler County Schools Parent Extravaganza.