The Dallas Morning News
Parents file suit over diversion from bus route
Plaintiffs say driver willfully detained elementary students
The parents of 13 Mckinney ISD elementary school students filed a lawsuit on Monday in Collin County District Court against Durham School Services L.P., Mckinney ISD and a school bus driver. The lawsuit said the driver “willfully” detained students when she diverted from her normal route on Feb. 28 and delivered students late to their bus stop, according to the lawsuit.
The driver, listed in court documents as Isabel Doe, but whose last name is unknown, was supposed to go from Mcclure Elementary School to Creekview Estates, a neighborhood about 1.5 miles east of the school. Instead, the bus ended up in Allen and finally stopped going south on U.S. 75 near Stacy Road before returning to the route, according to the plaintiffs’ attorney Kim Jones Penepacker, who said two parents were tracking their children’s cell phones. Stacy Road is about 15 minutes south of the school with no traffic.
“The students were detained on the bus and taken on a route to which they and their parents did not consent,” the suit said. “Detention of the students and taking them on the route Ms. Doe chose was done without parental consent and without authority of law. Plaintiffs have suffered damages as a result of the fear, anxiety, and trauma caused by this incident.” The suit says children were also exposed to unsafe heat levels during the detour.
Plaintiffs are seeking monetary relief greater than $1 million, according to the suit. At least six of the plaintiffs have also filed police reports, according to Aulsbrook Law Firm attorneys.
“As a result of the heat, the children on bus route 159 suffered heat rashes, hives, vomiting, and excessive sweating, among other heat-related injuries. The children were additionally traumatized, fearing that they had been kidnapped,” the lawsuit says.
Parents said their children arrived home 30 to 45 minutes past the normal time. There were about 30 children on the bus ranging in age from 6 to 11, according to Jones Penepacker.
Durham supervisors attempted to contact the driver, but said they were unable to reach her due to a malfunction with the communications system, according to an email sent to parents from Mckinney ISD, obtained by The Dallas Morning News. But, supervisors tracked the bus via GPS until it returned to its correct route and until all students got off the bus.
“Student safety remains our top priority, and we apologize for any concern or inconvenience caused by this situation,” the email said. “Durham is taking steps to correct it to ensure that all students arrive at their stops at the designated times, and is taking measures to rectify issues with the communications system.”
The lawsuit said the cause for the breakdown in communications “is believed by Plaintiffs to be either a technological defect in Durham’s equipment or the intentional act of Ms. Doe.”
“At no time during the bus route was student safety ever compromised, and no students were harmed,” said Cody Cunningham, chief communications officer for Mckinney ISD, in an email. “Any claims to the contrary are frivolous and without merit.”
In an email sent to parents the following day, Geoff Sanderson, chief accountability officer with Mckinney ISD, said the bus driver was new to her afternoon route for Mcclure Elementary and “mistakenly diverted from the route, which led to delays in students arriving at their afternoon bus stops.”
But, “Several moms have said that they counted at least seven wrong turns that had to have been made for the bus to end up on U.S. 75 going south,” Jones Penepacker said.
Jones Penepacker said they filed the lawsuit to address the issues with the heat, get answers for parents and bring about change.
“These parents want to know how was this person checked out? Were corners cut?” Jones Penepacker said.
Claims in the lawsuit include general negligence on the part of Mckinney ISD, Durham and the driver.
“Defendant Durham failed to act as a reasonably prudent transportation system in a number of ways, including but not limited to: negligent hiring, negligent training, negligent retention, and negligent supervision of Ms. Doe, negligent entrustment of its vehicle to Ms. Doe, and general negligence in maintaining its communication systems as well as its response to the above-referenced facts,” according to the suit.