School bus with stop arm and flashing lights
A school bus with it's stop arm deployed and its flashing lights actuated picks up East Helena School District students at Mountain View Park on Wednesday, May 25. This is the spot where Montana Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen allegedly illegally passed by a school bus on May 19. Credit: John S. Adams / MTFP

HELENA — Police have cited State Superintendent of Public Instruction Elsie Arntzen for a May 19 incident in which Arnzten allegedly illegally passed a school bus that had its flashing lights on while schoolchildren were loading. 

An emailed statement from Helena police Lt. Jayson Zander sent late Friday morning stated that an investigating officer met with Arntzen Thursday evening to speak to her about the incident.

“At the conclusion of the investigation, it was determined there was probable cause to charge Mrs. Arntzen with violating Montana Code Annotated 61-8-351 (meeting or passing a school bus). She was issued a citation and referred to City of Helena Municipal Court.” Violation of the law carries a fine of up to $500.

On June 1, Arntzen pleaded no contest in Helena Municipal Court to the allegations. Helena Municipal Judge Anne Peterson fined Arntzen $500, with $400 suspended. According to her spokesman, Brian O’Leary, she paid $135 in fines and fees.

The initial news of the citation was delivered May 27 via email from O’Leary.

“We were informed that a citation would be issued, even though we have not been able to view the video in question,” O’Leary stated in the email. “We were also informed that the video does not show the license plate of the vehicle involved. That being said Superintendent Arntzen would like to thank the bus driver for his vigilance. 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.”

Montana Free Press first reported the allegation Wednesday that around 7:30 a.m. on May 19, Arntzen illegally passed a school bus at a bus stop near her home in the Mountain View Meadows subdivision on Helena’s southeast side. 

“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.”

Arntzen spokesperson Brian O’Leary

According to a report the bus driver filed with police, a red Chevy Colorado pickup drove around the bus’ fully extended crossing arm. The bus driver said he recognized Arntzen behind the wheel and wrote down the license plate number of the vehicle she was driving.

Montana Department of Justice Motor Vehicle Division records indicate the license plate number belongs to a red Chevy Colorado truck registered to Arntzen’s husband, Steven W. Arntzen, of Billings. 

On Thursday evening, Zander sent an email to members of the media stating that officers had been unable to make contact with the driver of the vehicle and that the investigation was ongoing.  

The following morning, O’Leary sent an email indicating that contact had been made and that Arntzen had been informed she would receive a citation. 

Requests for additional information from Arntzen’s office did not receive an immediate response. 

This story was updated on May 27 to include additional comments from the Helena Police Department.

This story was updated on June 3 after Arntzen pleaded no contest to allegations and to include statements from Arntzen’s office.

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John Adams began his professional career in 2001 in Idaho Falls, ID writing and editing for a variety of trade magazines. He covered topics ranging from potato and sugar beet farming to skate park and playground construction and maintenance. Adams started his newspaper career as the city government reporter for the Daily Jefferson County Union in Fort Atkinson, WI where he covered the City Hall, police, fire and local courthouse beats. In 2005 he joined the staff of the Missoula Independent in Missoula, MT where he worked as a staff reporter covering a wide range of issues including the environment,...