Unlawfully entering or interfering with a school bus in the state of Alabama can now land you in jail under a new law Gov. Robert Bentley just signed. The measure, which is named after Midland City Bus Driver Charles “Chuck” Poland, specifically makes trespassing on a yellow bus a class-A misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in jail.
Rep. Alan Baker sponsored the House version, renamed The Charles "Chuck" Poland Jr., Act, while Sen. Cam Ward sponsored the Senate version.
State Pupil Transportation Director Joe Lightsey praised the lawmakers for their hard work in protecting Alabama’s students and drivers, noting that current trespass laws did not specifically address the unauthorized entry of a school bus — a problem he said is on the rise.
"All too often, unauthorized persons have boarded school buses and threatened or assaulted students and school bus drivers," Lightsey stated. "The Charles ‘Chuck' Poland, Jr. Act specifically addresses the issue of trespassing on an Alabama school bus and will help school systems protect students and school bus drivers by vigorously prosecuting persons who do so."
The Dale County Schools bus driver was shot and killed in January by a gunman who boarded his bus and demanded two students. Before being shot, Poland negotiated with Jimmy Lee Dykes and blocked his path, enabling 21 children to escape through the emergency exit. After killing Poland, Dykes abducted a 5-year-old boy with autism and held him hostage in an underground bunker for nearly a week before FBI agents burst in, killed him and rescued the boy.
In February, Judge William B. Matthews nominated Poland for the Presidential Medal of Freedom. This week, the National Teachers Hall of Fame honored Poland for dying in the line of duty on a new monument dedicated to slain educators.
Under the new law, the crime of trespass in the first degree includes intentionally stopping, impeding, delaying or detaining any school bus from being operated for public school purposes “with the intent to commit a crime.” Perpetrators will also be prosecuted in the first degree if they are found guilty of:
- Entering a public school bus while the door is open to load or unload students without lawful purpose while at a railroad grade crossing or after being forbidden from doing so by the bus driver or other authorized school official;
- Refusing to depart the school bus after the bus driver in charge or other school official demands this of said occupant; or
- Intentionally destroying, defacing, burning or damaging any public school bus.