Bus driver makes DeChristopher trial into impromptu field trip stop

Published: Tuesday, March 1 2011 11:52 p.m. MST

SALT LAKE CITY — A busload of Salt Lake City-area elementary school students got their bus driver's version of revolution Tuesday when they were taken to the federal courthouse, where many were still demonstrating in support of activist Tim DeChristopher.

Ryan Pleune, a bus driver for the Salt Lake City School District, said he took Monday off to take part in the protest on the first day of DeChristopher's trial. The 29-year-old environmental activist is being prosecuted on two criminal charges stemming from his actions at a December 2008 BLM auction, in which he ran up bids on more than a dozen parcels of land valued at nearly $1.9 million with no intention of paying.

The district said it was investigating the incident.

Pleune said he works for the school district to make money "and then I do my real work, which, is volunteering with local activist groups to create change in the community." He said he had no idea what his assignment would be when he arrived to work Tuesday, but felt it was a "great coincidence" when he realized he'd be transporting a group of fifth-graders to see a play on revolution. 

"I thought yesterday, 'Man, it would be cool if the kids could come and see this, but I have an assignment to do,'" he said. "I get people to places on time, I follow rules, and I wanted to make sure I do that."

But while he sat through a Hale Centre Theatre production of "A Tale of Two Cities" he said he couldn't stop thinking of the parallels. When he asked the students returning to the bus one word to summarize revolution, his mind was made up. 

"Out of 54 kids, every one of them said something dark, painful or ugly," Pleune said. "Then I said, you know, I'm just going to go by the courthouse … I'm just going to do something and beg forgiveness later."

He said he didn't ask for permission to avoid "touchy political stuff," he just assured teachers the children would be back in time for their scheduled lunch. He said the students didn't exit the bus, but simply rolled down their windows and listened to the protesters singing for a few minutes.

He said he shares DeChristopher's beliefs and wanted to sacrifice the way he thinks DeChristopher has — even if he may ultimately lose his job over his actions. 

"I'm willing to share in (DeChristpoher's) risk and embarrassment," he said. "Civil disobedience didn't end with Rosa Parks and it didn't end with Civil Rights. It's in our city. ... I brought them to show them revolution means different things for different people and that for these people it means singing, joy and resolve."

Pleune said his bosses at the Salt Lake City School District's Department of Transportation seemed "secretly, quietly happy" when he reported what he did. Officials from the school district learned of Pleune's actions late Tuesday afternoon. 

They said they are investigating the incident and could not immediately comment. 

Kathryn Patrick, whose son, Cameron, was on the bus, said she took issue with Pleune taking the children on unauthorized "special side trips." 

"The authorization I made was only to go to the Hale Theatre and see 'A Tale of Two Cities' and not to make any special side trips without my authorization as a parent," she said. "If that's something that I wish to do, I can do that on my time."

She said Pleune should have simply done his job in getting the students from the theater to the school and left it at that "per his contract by the school district." 

E-mail: emorgan@desnews.com Twitter: DNewsCrimeTeam

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