As students headed back to school last week, a California school bus driver was honored for bravery reminiscent of slain bus driver Charles Poland, who inspired a new Alabama law that toughens penalties for illegally trespassing on a school bus.
On Aug. 13 bus driver Deysi Nunez of the Lamont School District received the California Highway Patrol Commander's Certificate of Commendation for her courage.
Poland has been widely hailed as a hero after dying in January as he protected students from an armed intruder on his school bus. On May 30, Nunez prevented two men from boarding her yellow bus, which carried roughly 80 students at the time.
"We're really proud of her," said Elena Demarah, school bus officer for the CHP's Bakersfield area. "I’m glad she did what she did — she protected her students on board and around her."
The CHP oversees school bus inspections and certification of drivers. Demarah recalled that Nunez was one of the first school bus drivers she ever certified, back in January 2012.
According to the CHP, two men suddenly appeared at Nunez' bus door when she stopped to drop off a few students at Myrtle Avenue School. They looked to be about 20 years old. When they told Nunez that students had thrown something out the window, she replied that she did not witness it and told the men they needed to talk with her, not to the students.
When Nunez asked them if their vehicle had sustained any damage, one man said “yes” and the other “no.” Ironically, one of the men reportedly told Nunez she was not doing her job. But she kept herself and her passengers calm and used her radio to contact the bus transportation supervisor as she continued refusing the men entrance. Finally, she told the men the Highway Patrol had been contacted and would send out an officer to take a report.
"She was authoritative. She told them, 'No you’re not getting on my bus,'" recalled Demarah. "When she said the CHP was coming to take a report, they took off."
Nunez told officers the men were driving a gray sedan but the car was parked so closely behind the bus, she could not get the license plate number.
"They didn't stick around to explain themselves or their actions," stated CHP Lt. Julian Irigoyen, who presented the commendation to Nunez at the ceremony. “One of the things we do is honor (bus drivers) not only for driving, but for these actions of heroism.”
Demarah said Nunez was "very excited" about gaining this recognition yet remained humble about her actions that day.
"She just said that she sees those kids as her own children, and she couldn't imagine doing anything but that. I am just really proud that she did her job," added Demarah.
She also said she is nominating Nunez for the department's Bus Driver of the Year award and will send in her recommendation in February. The award recipient will then be announced in April.
Since the violence that transpired in Alabama last January, an increasing number of school districts are now including scenarios involving armed trespassers as part of bus drivers’ emergency preparedness training — most recently at Houston Independent School District in Texas and Rossford Schools in Ohio.