Albert Lea bus driver fired after incident

Published 5:30 pm Saturday, October 22, 2011

The Albert Lea Bus 344 driver whose actions caused students to chant “Racist, racist, racist!” a week ago has been terminated, according to officials with the Albert Lea Bus Co. and Albert Lea School District.

Albert Lea Bus Co. General Manager Richard Polley said the company has finished its investigation into a reported incident between passengers and the driver, in which the driver called police.

“While I don’t believe we violated any laws, there was evidence the driver’s conduct was not up to our standards,” said Steven Jannings, chief operating officer of Agnes Corp., the company that owns Albert Lea Bus Co.

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Jannings declined to reveal the driver’s name but said company officials thought the driver did not exercise good judgment.

Though bus company and school officials would not release a video of what happened on the bus, Jannings disagreed with the accounts two 11-year-old passengers gave.

The children — interviewed separately Wednesday but with matching accounts printed Thursday — said at least a third of the students on the crowded bus chanted, “Racist, racist, racist!” at the driver. The 11-year-olds said the driver yelled out to a black child who was not staying seated, “Hey, black kid, get your ass up here.” They said a taller black student confronted the driver. The driver reportedly stopped the bus and walked to confront that child, and that’s when the chanting began. The driver then called police.

Jannings said what the students recalled the driver saying was not accurate.

“Parts of it were true, but it was not stated that way,” he said.

He declined to give further details but claimed the video recording from the bus substantiates his argument.

Since the story first ran Thursday, parents of other passengers have come forward to say the story given by the 11-year-olds matches what their children told them.

Polley and Jannings said there were about 70 students on Bus 344 the afternoon of Oct. 14, which is still short of the 77 capacity. They said policy dictates elementary and middle school students can sit up to three per seat, while high school students two per seat.

A father told the Tribune his son called three times crying over the phone, wishing to get off. According to Jannings, there were not kids crying on the bus.

Polley said the company is contacting the Minnesota Department of Education and the Albert Lea Police Department to review the video from the bus to see if any further action is warranted.

Albert Lea Police Chief Dwaine Winkels and Lt. Jeff Strom said as of Friday afternoon they had not been contacted to review the tape, but Winkels noted they would gladly review it if they were asked.