Special Treatment

On the surface, it looks like a simple story: A mean bus driver mistreats and humiliates a girl with diabetes, someone whose well-being he is supposed to look out for. And as the details of the story make clear, there is no acceptable explanation for the driver’s behavior in this situation. But nevertheless, the incident raises questions about what a more respectful bus driver should have done, and what is generally the right thing to do when someone with a health condition requests an accommodation — especially when that accommodation inconveniences other people.


The story itself is rage-inducing. As reported by KTUU, an Anchorage, Alaska, NBC affiliate, a high school freshman named Hannah — who has Type 1 diabetes — was waiting for the bus to show up after school when she checked her blood glucose and got a reading of 35 mg/dl (dangerously low). Realizing that she didn’t have any fast-acting carbohydrates on her, she asked a friend to run inside to the school and grab a juice drink to bring back to her. While the friend was inside, the bus arrived, and Hannah called her mother to explain the situation. Hannah’s mother asked to speak to the bus driver to explain the situation to him and ask him to wait for Hannah’s friend. The bus driver refused, yelling at Hannah to move away from the bus’s door, that he needed to leave and that he couldn’t talk on the phone while driving. Upon hearing that she had diabetes and that a friend had run inside to grab a juice, he yelled, “Why didn’t you take care of that before now? We have to leave.”

When Hannah continued to beg the driver to wait — with panic rising in her voice — he started mocking her, yelling, “Oooh, we have a medical emergency, call 411, call 411.” Hannah’s mother heard the entire encounter over the phone. By this point, other students had offered Hannah a Dr. Pepper soft drink and some candy, which she accepted, but she was still waiting for her friend to return. An assistant principal arrived to try to assess the situation and was also yelled at by the bus driver, and then the school nurse arrived and pulled Hannah off the bus, which then left without her.

According to this account by Hannah’s mother, which she originally posted on Facebook, the bus driver’s behavior was unquestionably, shockingly mean and disgusting. But the question remains: What should a bus driver do in such a situation? Clearly the answer is not to mock and belittle Hannah. But it’s not clear than waiting indefinitely for Hannah’s friend to return was the right thing to do, either — there was, after all, a schedule to keep and parents who were counting on their kids being taken home. Perhaps a school bus is indeed a special case, but would anyone expect an airline pilot to hold a flight in a similar situation, while a passenger with diabetes waits for her friend to return from buying juice in the airport? Here at Diabetes Flashpoints, we’ve often discussed other situations in which accommodations were refused for people with diabetes — but in most of these cases, an accommodation wouldn’t have inconvenienced anyone else. One could make the argument that in this case, Hannah should have been prepared by having juice boxes on her, and upon realizing she didn’t have any, she should have stayed behind and found a different way to get home.

What do you think — is it reasonable or unreasonable to expect a bus (or plane, or boat) to wait for someone who is experiencing hypoglycemia (low blood glucose)? What about another health condition, such as an asthma attack? Is there a difference between stopping a vehicle because of a passenger’s medical condition, and delaying the vehicle’s departure in the first place? Does the severity or inconvenience of the medical condition matter — for example, should a bus wait for someone who is treating hypoglycemia, but not for someone recovering from a heart attack? Leave a comment below!

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  • BK former CDE, now retired

    Lots of issues here. The bus driver should not mock and ridicule any student, ever! Whether they have a health issue or not so that is a first issue that I would hope his supervisor addressed. If he has a history of that type of behavior he should be gone.

    I would also hope he would have had some training about diabetes in general. He may have had. A bus driver might have legitimate concerns about whether a student who is that low is going to be safe on his bus so it might be more appropriate for her to get her juice, notify other school staff in the building and call for another way home in case her hypoglycemia persisted or became worse. Perhaps he should have notified someone in the building. I imagine he had a radio.

    If a driver was familiar with the child and knew she sometimes has lows but had always been fine with treatment, waiting 2 or 3 minutes does not seem unreasonable. Maybe even up to 5 minutes, but certainly no more considering he does have a schedule to follow. He can’t really wait 15 minutes to see what her response is going to be. How long the bus ride home is going to be could be another factor.

  • Janice

    If it was my child or grandchild, I would be extremely upset and demand he be fired. Anyone like that has no business on a bus load of kids.

  • Donna

    What would this driver have done if she had not tested her sugar level before getting on the bus and it presented a real emergency while he was driving??? Would he have belittled her still and kept driving? She could have gone into a diabetic coma if her sugars got much lower. He needs to be (at a minimum) reprimanded and forced to go to some training. On the other hand, as a diabetic, the little girl needs to be responsible also. If it was that low, she should have called her mom or gone into the school and spoke with the nurse, teacher or office staff. It’s a 2 way street but I really do not accept or condone the drivers attitude.

  • James_from_omaha

    So many fishy things about this story. Yes, the driver should not have belittled her. However, she was asking the bus to wait for her friend. Any issues she was having were solved by the offers of carbs from kids on the bus, that is if she really was in danger. Even if she needed more help — she was at school with the vice principal and nurse there to assist. The only question was how long should a bus driver wait for a friend that was late coming out of school? If you heard daily all the excuses and gimics kids say everyday to avoid and try to get out of stuff and not take blame for anything — you would be more callaused and skeptical. The issue was how long should he wait for a healthy student to come out of the school before leaving.

  • LT

    His attitude is the most troubling. To mock and deride a distressed student, to make fun of what was clearly a genuine medical emergency, that cannot be overlooked. I shudder to think that someone with such a nasty, arrogant, condescending attitude is in charge of children’s safety. In my opinion, he must be fired immediately. There is no other option.

  • Quention Lockett

    He was just a jerk or not trained as well as he should have been. Calling his dispatcher would have solved ALL of this! But judging by how he acted I would question the training of the dispatcher also!

  • Terri Teamer

    He should be reprimanded & given a course on diabetes complications!! A few minutes wait will not knock off much time to get students home!!!! I am type 2 diabetes & shudder at the fact he could not be adult enough to accommodate Hannah!!! After speaking with her mother should have given him presents of mind to wait!!!

  • John

    Does anyone really want such a person to drive their children to/from school or events ?

  • tommyp

    I am furious. A high school freshman is still a child and needs supervision. Her health was in danger. It is everyone’s job… all of us… to see to the children’s welfare. The driver should have done EVERYTHING necessary to see to it she got what she needed. There should have been no question about what’s next. There should have been no waiting. She needed an adult in charge. The drivers response was shocking enough, but it makes me question the community environment that would allow an individual like that to be in charge of our children. Who is in charge at that bus company and what are they teaching their drivers? Not only should the driver’s behavior be addressed (long term) but a long-term examination of community practices. If we don’t take care of us, who will? It’s up to us to set our community standards and to keep them We cannot afford to be reactionary. We must be thoughtful and thorough. Nothing can stand it the way of that.

  • Kandra

    Bus driver should never have mocked that girl. Never. Hannah got the help she needed from the kids on the bus with high carb treats and driver should have called into the school to tell the girl getting juice that they were leaving. If my special needs kids was riding the bus I would have high glucose snacks with her daily. I did not let mine ride the bus it is my responsibility to take care of my child with medic al problems not the school or the bus driver.

  • notaluvvie

    It doesn’t “beg the question” at all. It may cause questions to be asked but to beg the question is a form of logical fallacy in which a statement or claim is assumed to be true without evidence other than the statement or claim itself. When one begs the question, the initial assumption of a statement is treated as already proven without any logic to show why the statement is true in the first place.