Authorities investigate alleged school bus assault

An alleged assault involving a Monticello Middle School student and a Hoglund Transportation, Inc. bus driver is under investigation by authorities.
Capt. Greg Howell with the Wright County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the Nov. 6 afternoon incident remains under investigation and is being forwarded to the Wright County attorney for review to determine if charges will be filed.
The alleged assault reportedly occurred on a school bus in the 3800 block of Savannah Trail. A juvenile male reported the driver of a school bus had choked him, Howell stated in an email.
Superintendent Jim Johnson provided additional information about the incident in a telephone interview.
“The student is a minor,” he said. “[State] data privacy laws don’t allow me to share much information.”
Johnson said the Monticello district is working closely with the bus company, the Wright County Sheriff’s Office and the Minnesota Department of Education to investigate the incident.
“We received a call from the bus company very soon after they became aware of the incident,” Johnson said. “They told me what they were going to do as far as their investigation was concerned. Johnson said the driver was removed from two bus routes the day the alleged assault occurred.
A written report regarding the incident was filed with the Minnesota Department of Education, Johnson said.
“This incident is a little bit unique because the interviews had been done the night before we met with representatives from Hoglund.” he said. “They called most of the students who were on the bus after the incident happened. Most of the parents were aware of what had happened because of that phone conversation.”
Middle school staff spoke with the student and his parents when he came back to school, Johnson said.
“Because we contract for transportation services, it’s a little bit different than if we owned our own buses,” he said.
Hoglund Transportation, Inc., provides transportation to students in the Monticello School District.
Founded by Stuart and Arleen Hoglund in 1947, the company is now owned by Gordon Hoglund; his daughter and son-in-law, Kari and Joe Kounkel, joined the company in the mid-1980s and perform most management responsibilities.
Kari Kounkel spoke with the Monticello Times about the alleged assault and explained how the company investigates incidents with students
“This is the first time that we’ve had an incident similar to what the student is alleging happened on the bus,” Kounkel said last week. “There’s always more to the story than is initially apparent. We talked to quite a number of students and their parents, including the parent of the student involved in this situation.”
Kounkel said the company talked to the driver and fully cooperated with all of the law enforcement and education-related agencies conducting investigations.
“When we received the first report there had been an incident on the bus, the very first thing that we did was to send a relief driver,” she said.
“We wanted to be able to do our investigation without her being in a position where things were out of control and difficult to manage.” The driver has been suspended, she said.
Kounkel said the female driver involved in the alleged assault regularly attended the company’s safety meetings and participated in all seven training events.
“The very first thing we tell all of our drivers when they come to orientation is any unsafe act that jeopardizes the safety of a student will result in an immediate and final termination,”  Kounkel said. “If that’s the [eventual] conclusion of what happened, then clearly, there would be no swaying from that company policy.”
There were no video cameras installed on the bus where the alleged assault occurred, Kounkel said.
“We’ve opted not to use them, because when you have video, there are only a couple of people who are designated to watch it, namely a company official and someone at the school,” she added. “You can’t show the video to another person unless you block the students’ faces or obtain a court order.”
Kounkel said the female driver been a Hoglund employee for eight years.
Johnson added: “Making sure kids feeling safe on buses is a No.1 priority for us. We want make sure we are thorough and get the story right regarding this incident.”