CMS school bus driver offered children money to swab their cheeks, families say

MECKLENBURG COUNTY, N.C. — Several families told Channel 9′s John Paul that a Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools’ bus driver offered their children $5 to swab their cheeks.

It all started after sixth-grader Dynasty Davis and eighth-grader Dajsani Green got off the bus two weeks ago from Ridge Road Middle School.

“She comes home and says, ‘Mom, my bus driver gave me $5 for swabbing my cheeks,” mother Mone Davis said.

“She gave me the Q-tip thing … and made me swab my mouth, and when I was done, I put it in the cylinder and gave it to her. Then she gave me $5,” Dynasty Davis said.

The different families have the same story. They claim on Feb. 15, their bus driver took samples from half the bus, about 10 kids, without parental permission.

“At first I was thinking about the $5, and then I thought, a COVID test is through the nose, not the mouth,” Dajsani Green said.

“I said, ‘No, that’s not a COVID test, that’s for DNA.’ And she said, ‘Mommy, she asked for my name, had my name on a clipboard, she scratched it off and then asked for my date of birth,’” parent Dawn Thompson said.

Both families called CMS and the transportation department. They also filed a police report.

“At that point, I just kind of froze up because it was just like, what’s going on here?” one parent said. “When they do COVID, the parent has to be notified.”

On Monday, the school sent out an automated call to parents regarding the incident.

“They called saying there was an incident on the bus and they weren’t really releasing information,” mother Erika Sosa said.

Sosa is another parent who said he was paid by his bus driver to swab his cheek.

“He said that there was two other adults on the bus when they were giving away the $5 for these tests. They didn’t know who they were,” Sosa said.

According to students on the bus, the driver said it was for a COVID-19 test.

The only thing the district will say to them is that they’re investigating.

“We will not comment on any active investigations by CMPD or other law enforcement. The safety and security of our students and staff are important. CMS does not condone any actions that infringe on student privacy,” CMS said in a statement to Channel 9.

The district’s response is not sitting well with the families. They want to know what is being done with those swabs.

“I don’t know why she would want to get their DNA. I don’t know what she’s gong to use it for, whether it’s going to be some kind of study. Imminently in my mind I’m thinking, ‘Are you trying to kidnap my child. I don’t know?’” another parent said.

Anchor John Paul spoke to the CEO of StarMed Tuesday, who said that is not an approved way of testing.

The families told Channel 9 that they are considering taking this further, perhaps even getting a lawyer.

“We’re definitely trying to get to the root as to why this was done,” a parent said. “Now we’re questioning what the motive is.”

The district said the bus driver has been suspended, but have not released any other details.

(Timeline: Here’s what Channel 9 knows so far)

Full statement from CMS:

“In matters involving allegations such as these, CMS cannot share details such as individual names. The driver is suspended pending results of an investigation. The alleged incident appears to be an individual acting outside of assigned duties, and nothing of the nature described in your inquiries would ever be done with knowledge of the district or school.”

Message sent to Ridge Road Middle School families:

“Hello Ridge road Families.

This is principal Reeves with an important message. The safety of Ridge Road students is something I take very seriously. Recently an incident occurred on a school bus that serves our campus, and it has been a cause for concern in our community. When I first learned of the matter, I reported it immediately to be appropriate parties for investigation. However, since the incident and the individual involved are currently under investigation, I am unable to share any further information at this time.

You can be assured that our school district takes all allegations of misconduct seriously and takes appropriate measures to investigate whenever we are made aware of issues. If you have any questions, feel free to contact me.

Thank you for support of Ridge Road Middle School. Have a wonderful day ahead.”

Action 9 learns about scam with similarities to alleged cheek swabbing incident

There are still a lot of questions up in the air -- why would anyone swab someone else’s mouth and take their personal information, and what would they do with that information?

Families don’t know what the actual motivation might have been because officials aren’t saying much.

Action 9′s Jason Stoogenke has been digging into their concerns, and learned the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services has warned about a scam that has some similarities.

The agency said scammers offer free cheek swabs or other screenings, but they’re really out to obtain Medicare information for identity theft or fraudulent billing.

DHHS said to never participate in that type of test unless you or your doctor ordered it. And if you receive Medicare, always be careful with your Medicare number, and don’t provide it to anyone besides our doctor’s office.

Children receive Medicaid, not Medicare, which makes this even more mysterious.

At this point, we still don’t know why anyone allegedly swabbed the mouths of those middle school bus riders, but we’re continuing to investigate.

(WATCH BELOW: ‘You’re my hero’: School bus driver meets man who pulled her from wreck in Lancaster County)