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Metro Special-Ed Program Agrees to Federal Monitoring

19-year-old student attacker 19-year-old student attacker
Gilbert Gilbert
school board chairman David Fox school board chairman David Fox

By Phil Williams

Metro schools have entered in an agreement with the U.S. Justice Department, designed to protect special-education students from being sexually assaulted.

The agreement -- just filed Tuesday -- places the school system under federal supervision for years to come.

And school officials say they've learned some big lessons about keeping your children safe.

The child at the center of the landmark settlement, Gilbert, was an autistic and mildly retarded 9 year old when he revealed to his mom a terrible secret about a sexual assault on a Metro school bus.

Mother: "On the little bus, what happened with you and the boy on the little bus?"
Gilbert: "The big boy?"
Mother: "Uh-huh.
Gilbert: "Me don't want to tell you."

His attacker: a 19-year-old student with a known history of sexually inappropriate behavior.

"It is closing a very sad and unfortunate chapter," said school board chairman David Fox.

The Justice Department opened its probe after our NewsChannel 5 investigation revealed that other special-ed students had also been assaulted.

Yet, until we began asking questions, school officials had balked at hiring bus aides to protect the children.

"I think there was a slowness institutionally to understand the scope of the problem, the seriousness of the problem and the size of response that was needed to fix it," Fox said.

Under the terms of the Justice Department settlement, Metro will be required to:

  • Continue to provide aides for all special-ed buses -- something it implemented following our investigation,
  • Adopt screening procedures to ensure that students aren't placed in dangerous situations,
  • Improve training for special-ed bus drivers, and
  • Develop procedures for quick investigation of sexually inappropriate behavior on buses.

And for another four years, the feds will monitor how the school system protects those special needs children.

As for Gilbert, "He is fearful. He has heard command voices telling him to harm people," said his lawyer, Gary Blackburn.

The attorney added that Gilbert has been so traumatized he might need to be institutionalized for the rest of his life. A $1.5 million settlement with Metro schools -- required by the Justice Department -- will pay for that care.

"This money will go for the care and benefit of Gilbert for the rest of his life and be held for him as long as he lives," Blackburn said.

All that, as the school system works to make sure there are no more Gilberts.

Fox said, "This is probably the only positive thing about this awful situation. The legacy is our exceptional needs are going to be much better served by our school system."

And the case isn't over.

Gilbert's family still has a case against Genesis Academy. That's a company that helps educate disabled children under contract with Metro Schools.

That case goes to trial in March.

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