Arntzen fined max $500 for illegally passing school bus, $400 suspended

Superintendent pleaded no contest to charge, pays $135 in fine, fees

By: - June 2, 2022 2:46 pm

Elsie Arntzen, Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction, walks into Parental Rights Education Action meeting at Crosspoint Church in Missoula, Montana on November 1, 2021. (Tommy Martino for The Daily Montanan.)

A Helena city judge fined Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen $500 on Thursday for illegally driving past a school bus stopped to board children, according to court records. A police citation notes the bus had its lights flashing and stop sign displayed.

The Municipal Court judge suspended $400 of the fine and the charge will be dismissed on condition Arntzen is not cited again for 60 days. Arntzen pleaded no contest to the May 19 incident, reported to the Helena Police Department by the school bus driver.

Arntzen paid the $135 fine and fees for the violation of MCA 61-8-351, according to the court. In an email, Office of Public Instruction spokesperson Brian O’Leary said Arntzen did not recall driving past the bus and first learned of the allegation from the Montana Free Press.

“Superintendent Arntzen would like to thank the bus driver for his vigilance,” O’Leary said in an email. “This is a good reminder for all of us to slow down from life’s daily distractions and to pay extra careful attention, especially as we enter the busy summer season.”

When the Free Press first reported the incident late last month, Arntzen said it had “nothing to do with OPI.” The story said the driver reported he was loading children onto the bus at the time.

In 2021, the Montana Legislature passed a law to improve bus safety after a driver struck and critically injured a student in 2019 while passing a bus, according to the Associated Press. The AP said Arntzen had testified in support of the bill.

Helena police report
Helena muni court

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”