CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, S.C. — The Chesterfield County School District said it is looking at options to place monitors on special needs school buses after a 4-year-old nonverbal child with autism was badly assaulted by a fellow student while on the bus.
The incident -- which was caught on the school bus’ camera in November -- shows the child being kicked, punched, bitten and slapped by a 9-year-old boy.
It happened during the morning and afternoon school bus routes, our sister station WPDE reported.
(WARNING: The video below may be difficult for some to watch)
The attorney representing the 4-year-old's family released the video, which is disturbing to watch. The child can't talk but is heard in the video screaming and crying.
Officials said the driver, who kept driving despite the girl’s screams, has since been fired and is now facing criminal neglect charges for not keeping the 4-year-old safe.
"That's unacceptable,” said Tabitha Amerson, a parent of child with special needs.
In an incident report, WPDE reports the bus driver said he had no idea what was taking place. In the video, when he reaches the child's stop, he tells the girl's parents that he didn't know why the child was crying.
The girl's family is pushing for bus monitors to be on the buses in order to prevent something like this from happening again. Officials with the school district said they are looking at options to have monitors on buses that carry students with special needs.
"That's something we’re discussing,” said Superintendent Chris Price. “(It’s) not anything definite, but in our budget talks, we’re looking at things like that."
The family’s attorney released the following statement:
"Over three months after a 4-year old non-verbal autistic student was repeatedly attacked by another student on both the morning and afternoon special needs bus route in Chesterfield County, the parents of that child have concerns about what Chesterfield County School District is doing to protect the children that they carry back and forth to school. While the bus driver was terminated and is now facing criminal neglect charges, the parents of the young girl that was attacked are concerned that not enough has been done to ensure such incidents do not happen in the future. Specifically, they are concerned that there was no monitor on the special needs bus their daughter rode on November 5, 2018 and that it appears the school district still has no monitors in place on the special needs bus. Additionally, upon review of the videos that show a student punch, kick, bite and grab their restrained and defenseless daughter over 70 times, it appears as though another special needs student on that bus was attacked several times. From the paperwork available in the criminal case, it does not appear as though either the school district or law enforcement identified these other attacks. The videos in this case are appalling. These children are defenseless. They are strapped in so that they cannot defend themselves or avoid these attacks. They are non-verbal, so they cannot communicate what is wrong. They can only cry out in pain. These parents are publicizing what happened to their daughter in the hope that no other child's cries go unheard."
The district's public information officer explained to WPDE why there are no monitors on special needs buses.
"There is no law that says you have to have monitors on buses,” Ken Buck said in a statement to the station. “In September, we began working with the State Department of Education’s Driver Trainer PJ Crouse to look at our procedures as it relates to special needs bus routes. On November 2, Mrs. Crouse gave us information that shared best practices as it relates to special needs transportation including training. We are currently looking at possible changes in the future as it relates to monitors on special needs buses."
The South Carolina Department of Education said districts have to provide a monitor or attendant on special needs buses if a student's Individualized Education Plan (IEP) calls for a monitor.
Buck told WPDE that the bus driver was immediately put on administrative leave while they investigated the issue. He said they also viewed the tape to see exactly what took place.
"The principal and district transportation area director came in the next day, which was a holiday, to view the footage,” Buck said. “We called the other parent and let them know about the inappropriate behavior on the bus and what disciplinary action was being taken.”
Buck told WPDE the district is saddened by the behavior of another special needs child hurting another student and has taken appropriate action to make sure this does not happen again.
"Again, we are always looking for ways to improve,” Buck said. “With the incident and state department information, we are currently looking at options to obtain monitors with current personnel as well as possibly hiring positions, which we were doing before the incident."
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