A new law in Alabama, recently passed and signed into law, making the unauthorized stop or delay of a school bus a crime should help protect students and bus drivers. The recent murders of a school bus driver and the taking of a child as a hostage in Dale County, Ala., got tremendous attention nationally. Alabama Transportation Director Joe Lightsey, who says the new law will be “vigorously prosecuted,” observed:
All too often, unauthorized persons have boarded school buses and threatened or assaulted students and school bus drivers. Current trespass laws do not specifically address the unauthorized entry of a school bus.
The law, passed as the “Charles ‘Chuck’ Poland Jr. Act” during the 2013 legislative sessions, makes it a Class A misdemeanor to trespass on a school bus, punishable by up to a year in jail. It is named in honor of the bus driver who was fatally shot by Jimmy Lee Dykes, a 65-year-old Vietnam War-era veteran, who boarded the school bus and demanded Poland hand over children – a request that Poland refused. The incident resulted in a seven-day hostage crisis on Dykes’ property near Midland City. Under the new law, a person commits the crime of first-degree trespassing on a school bus if they are found guilty of 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 lawful purpose while at a railroad grade crossing of after being forbidden from doing so by the bus driver in charge or an authorized school official;
• As an occupant of a public school bus, refusing to leave the bus after the bus driver in charge or authorized school officials demands that he or she do so;
• Intentionally stopping, impeding, delaying or detaining any school bus from being operated for public school purposes with the intent to commit a crime.
The Alabama Department of Education credits Sen. Cam Ward from Jefferson County and Rep. Alan Baker, who is from Brewton, with passage of the legislation. These men are to be commended for working hard and getting this legislation passed. The Charles “Chuck” Poland Jr. Act specifically addresses the issue of trespassing on an Alabama school bus and it will help school systems protect students and school bus drivers if persons who violate the act are vigorously prosecuted and sent to prison. It appears that will happen.
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