Dean Transportation: City of Lansing withholding information needed for bullying investigation

Rachel Greco
Lansing State Journal

Editor's note: This story was updated to include a July 11, 2019 statement from Lansing Mayor Andy Schor in response to a request for comment from the State Journal made July 10, 2019.

LANSING – Dean Transportation hasn't concluded its investigation into bullying a Lansing boy who later killed himself said he experienced on his school bus because of information being withheld by City of Lansing officials, a company spokesperson said.

Dean officials blame the delay on a “significantly redacted” copy of the Lansing Police Department’s report into Everett High School eighth grader Michael Martin’s Jan. 25 death, company spokesman Josh Hovey said.

Dean, which provides bus services for Lansing schools, submitted a public records requests through the company's attorneys for the police report on May 20.

The copy they received was "so heavily redacted that it didn't provide any relevant information," Hovey said in an email.

Dean officials are looking at alternative ways to obtain a copy of the unredacted police report, Hovey said, but they have yet to receive one.

A photo collage of Michael Martin and his family members hangs in his mother Joanna Wohlfert's home on Monday, April 29, 2019, in Lansing. Michael, 13, died on Jan. 25, 2019, two days after attempting suicide in his home. Wohlfert says her son was bullied in the months leading up to his death.

Dean officials are "frustrated," he said, and unable to finish their own investigation "until it has had the opportunity to vet any potentially new information relative to their current analysis."

"They're waiting to make any final conclusions until they know if there's anything in the police report that would contradict their own knowledge of what occurred," Hovey said Monday afternoon. 

Mary Bowen, an assistant attorney for the City of Lansing, didn't return messages left by the State Journal Tuesday.

On Wednesday Hovey provided a copy of Dean's records request to the city, made through its attorneys on May 20, to the State Journal.

On Thursday Mayor Andy Schor's spokeswoman, Valerie Marchand acknowledged the city received the public records request for the police report from Dean Transportation, after initially denying the city received it. Thursday Marchand told a State Journal reporter that request was listed under Dean's law firm.

In his statement Schor said the records Dean requested "contained requests that are protected by MI’s privacy laws, including medical records covering several topics such as mental health, which are highly protected from disclosure under HIPAA, the Michigan Public Health Code, and Michigan Mental Health Code. Additionally, because the victim was a juvenile, many of the records related to student records are protected by the Revised Judicature Act and personal information under the Freedom of Information Act."

"The City has been in communication with Dean Transportation and will do our best under the law to assist with this investigation. My thoughts and prayers are with Michael Martin’s family, friends and all who knew him," Schor said in his statement.

Dean employee still on leave

The Lansing Police Department's criminal investigation into Michael's death was completed in early April, and no criminal charges were sought.

The State Journal obtained a redacted copy of the police report through a public records request. It shows a Dean Transportation employee did not return two voicemail messages left by Joanna Wohlfert, Michael's mother, on Jan. 8. 

That administrative employee, which the company has declined to name, was removed from her position and placed on indefinite leave. She is still on leave pending the conclusion of Dean's investigation, Hovey said.

Hovey declined to say whether the employee is being paid while on leave.

A Lansing School District internal investigation conducted after Michael's death and submitted to school officials in late March shows he was bullied in school and district officials did not address concerns despite pleas from his mother and a request for intervention from his teachers.

According to the school's investigation, Nichole Atwater, who drove Michael's school bus, told a school public safety officer no one at Dean Transportation notified her Michael was being bullied on the bus.

Dean still waiting on unredacted police report

Wohlfert, Michael's mother, said Monday that no one from Dean Transportation or the Lansing School District has contacted her or interviewed her about her phone calls to the company in January. 

In May, Hovey said Dean had "reinforced promptness of response and follow-up to concerns with all employees."

Hovey said the company was also developing "standardized tools for receipt and tracking of all student incidents."

The Lansing-based company provides busing services for more than 100 school districts throughout Michigan, Hovey said, including special education transportation services for all Ingham County schools, as well as all students for Lansing, East Lansing, Dansville and Webberville.

"(Dean officials) want to conclude this as quickly as possible," Hovey said Monday. "They have yet to receive an unredacted report from Lansing Police Department."


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Contact Rachel Greco at rgreco@lsj.com. Follow her on Twitter @GrecoatLSJ.