A video shared by a middle school student went viral and caused a stir among area parents last week. The video shows a charter bus driver using his cell phone while driving a busload of Leander ISD students on a busy stretch of I-35 between Austin and New Braunfels.
“The video of a charter bus driver transporting Stiles Middle School Band students while handling his phone last weekend was concerning,” LISD spokesperson Corey Ryan said in a statement released last week.
Ryan said the district was notified about the incident on Monday and began work right away.
“Upon being notified by a parent of the incident… LISD immediately launched an investigation, and the district is currently addressing the matter with Roadrunner Charters,” Ryan said.
Distracted driving has been illegal across the state of Texas since Sept. 1. The texting-while-driving ban passed during the 85th Texas Legislative Session and prohibits motorists from reading, writing or sending electronic messages while driving.
"I'm pretty ticked off," said Dave Aronson, father of the student who took the video. “Not at the school system, but at the bus company and the bus driver for allowing this to happen."
Aronson said the students were “just middle schoolers” and didn’t know what to do at the time other than take video evidence and contact parents to seek help.
LISD said it contracts with charter bus companies for some road trips due to a lack of school buses. For this trip, the district says it hired 10 charter buses to transport around 550 students from both Henry and Stiles Middle Schools to Schlitterbahn for an end-of-year field trip.
TBI Charters, a subcontractor of Roadrunner Charters, operated the bus in question. The company said last week that the driver was reconnecting his phone back to his electronic log, as required by law, and that the driver was not “texting or listening to music.” The company acknowledged that the driver should have pulled over to the side of the road to reconnect the device.
That explanation, however, didn’t sit well with many parents after students on the bus are said to have reported that the driver had been using his cell phone for most of the trip and some said they’d seen the driver looking at photos on his phone.
The company said last week that its driver has not been fired, but promised to dismiss the driver if there’s another incident.
Regardless of the length of time the driver used his phone, the incident could fall under Texas’ new distracted driving law. It could also fall under Texas Penal Code 22.041, which criminalizes any behavior that “knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence… places a child younger than 15” in danger, according to another parent commenting on the post.
Ryan said the district wants to ensure parents know that Leander ISD is committed to the safety and well-being of all students.
“Student safety is our top priority at Leander ISD, and the district is working to ensure our concerns about this incident, as well as those of our families, are heard and addressed,” Ryan said.