Bus policy stirs up hornet's nest -- DL School District officials will meet with parent on proposed solution

The bus company, Olander Bus Service Inc., not the Detroit Lakes School District, instituted a seating policy on a Detroit Lakes school bus that has caused so much controversy in the last week.

The bus company, Olander Bus Service Inc., not the Detroit Lakes School District, instituted a seating policy on a Detroit Lakes school bus that has caused so much controversy in the last week.

"The bus company has to have the latitude to make sure that they are providing a safe, orderly and efficient ride for the children. If there are some things that the district has questions over, then we usually open the doors to discussion and dialogue about those particular strategies that they may employ to make the ride efficient," said Superintendent Doug Froke.

According to the contractual agreements with the bus companies, the district does have discretion about route development and bus protocol, but Froke said the district tends to stay out of it unless there is a problem. The district has contracts with two bus companies in the area, Olander Bus Service and Schultz Garage and Bus Company Inc.

The seating policy at issue is a reserved seating area on an Olander Bus Service morning route. The first three seats in the bus are reserved for students from Riverview Terrace, a mobile home park that is the last stop for the bus before the Detroit Lakes Middle School.

What happened?


The seating arrangement came to the notice of parent Vickie Rudolph when her family moved to Riverview Terrace in the fall.

She said her children were not aware of the seating policy and when her son, Jeff Windels, went to sit outside the reserved area, the bus driver told him, "Hey you, trailer park kid, I told you trailer park kids sit in the first three front rows." She said her son respectfully complied.

A couple days later, Windels took a seat in the fourth row and other students pointed out to the bus driver, "Hey bus driver, trailer park kids are trying to sit back here with us," and the bus driver allowed this taunting to go on. Rudolph said her son told her there was something wrong with this situation and explained what happened.

She called Olander Bus Service and was told the seating arrangement was the policy due to a large group of kids and that if students lived in Riverview Terrace, it was where they had to sit.

Rudolph said she didn't think that sounded right because her family had just come from Richwood Road, where there were more students and traffic. The bus on that route did not have assigned seating.

She talked to Mr. Martinez at the high school and was referred to Ben Weekley, who sent her to business manager Ted Heisserer. She attended a meeting to discuss the seating arrangement and said they talked about bus safety with a large number of students getting on the bus and high traffic on the street.

The meeting inspired Rudolph to observe the bus stop for a several days and document the number of students who ride the bus (she observed five to six) and the traffic flow in the area during pick up and drop off times (one to two cars, sometimes none, she said).

After presenting that information to Heisserer and Weekley, Rudolph said she received a written reply that the seating arrangement was because of efficiency, due to the closeness of the bus stop to the school. She said it takes less than 30 seconds for the five to six students to load the bus.


She told Heisserer that was not a valid reason for the seating arrangement and that she wouldn't leave Riverview Terrace until this situation was fixed, even though she has a new house waiting.

"For two and a half months I have fought this and fought this and they have shut me down, so finally I went to the media. My kids made a stand last Friday on the bus," Rudolph said.

After that, she told her kids to obey the bus rules because they had made their point.

"I want bus safety. I want my kids to obey rules, but I want it to be for the right reasons."

She said she doesn't think the seating policy is based on safety issues or efficiency. Requiring students from the mobile home park to sit only in those seats is a form of discrimination. Even when there are other open seats on the bus, the Riverview Terrace students are required to sit in the reserved seats.

"They are segregated from the rest of the bus and made to feel different and that is labeling and that is giving them the impression that they aren't worth what the other kids on the bus are worth. It's taking their self-esteem and crushing it," Rudolph said.

She said that as a result of her fight to end this seating policy her kids have been labeled as troublemakers and rule breakers because of standing up against a policy they think is wrong, and others have said she's just looking to gain money from the situation.

"That is the last thing that I want. I just want it to end. I want the policy to be fair for all children across the board."


She said son expressed it best on a radio show earlier in the week when he said, "A home is a home. It does not matter where you live or what kind of house. It shouldn't affect where you sit on that bus."

Where the issue stands

On Wednesday, Froke said the district is working with the bus company to try to resolve the issue.

"We were able to work through some things with our bus company in terms of what we can maybe do differently," Froke said Thursday.

He didn't want to discuss what the district has come up with to resolve the situation before talking to Rudolph.

"We'd like to sit down with Mrs. Rudolph first and discuss the resolution of the issue beforehand," he said.

Rudolph said she needed a little time before meeting with the district.

"I need time to think about it because I don't want to go in there angry. I want to go in there. At some point I want them to give me a valid reason but I don't think they can," she said.


After all that has gone on, Rudolph said she has gotten a lot of support in her fight for a fair and consistent seating arrangement for the students on the bus, and hard from some people who don't think what she is doing is right. She said she has no hard feelings for those involved in the issue and resolving it.

"I have no hard feelings for the bus driver, I'm not out to get her fired," Rudolph said. "I just want fairness across the board. I want them to acknowledge that these children need to be treated equal."

Rudolph said Friday morning that said she will meet with the district to discuss resolving the issue. She said she expects to get the proposal in writing before the meeting on Tuesday so she can make a proper response.

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