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NC5 Investigates: Stories of Abuse

Metro Warned About Lack of Bus Aides

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Kimberly Lopez-Ruiz Kimberly Lopez-Ruiz
Carol Hendlmyer, special education coordinator in Williamson County Carol Hendlmyer, special education coordinator in Williamson County

All they want is a safe ride to school, but Metro's special education students have become targets.

And school officials still aren't saying what they'll do to stop sexual assaults on special-ed buses.

But a lot of school systems are doing what Metro does only after some children have been molested.

Police say the two latest sexual assaults could have been prevented if Metro had put monitors on the buses.

That's what two other young autistic victims, Jenna and Gilbert, got -- after they were violated.

Gilbert's mom says she had begged for a monitor on his school bus. She finally got it after a troubled 19-year-old special ed student forced her autistic 9-year-old to perform oral sex on the way home from school.

"Why did Jenna's innocence, Gilbert's innocence have to be sacrificed to get a monitor?" asks Kimberly Lopez-Ruiz. "Why did they have to be abused to be protected?"

It's a question that school board chair Marsha Warden didn't want to answer when NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams caught up with her at Tuesday's school board meeting.

"Can you tell me one thing you've done to protect students," Williams asked.

She wouldn't say.

But in Williamson County, special-ed teachers say the answer to protecting students is simple.

"We have assistants on every one of our special education buses," says special education coordinator Carol Hendlmyer.

Williams asks, "Would you dream of not having them?"

"I don't think that would be a good thing," she answers.

And a survey of surrounding counties reveals most school systems have monitors on every special-ed bus to help with the students' special needs, instead of counting on the drivers to do it all.

"The driver is driving the bus. They have to watch the traffic and the roads," Hendlmyer says.

In fact, a federal civil rights investigation of Metro's special-education program eight years ago noted that "bus drivers stated that having aides on the buses would assist them in keeping order on the buses; however, District officials have not responded to their request for aides." (Read the 2000 report from U.S. Dept. of Education.)

"Can you tell me one thing you've done to protect the students?" Williams again asked Marsha Warden.

While school officials wouldn't respond to us either, police say -- if Metro schools had followed that advice -- its students wouldn't have become victims.

"How many more students have to be molested?" Williams asked Warden, who walked away without answering.

And just to show the consequences of the school board's inaction, Gilbert has since been placed in a psychiatric facility.

His doctor has told the family that he's suffering from post-traumatic disorder, that he's suicidal and that the prognosis for his recovery is "abysmal."

As to why the board didn't heed the warnings from the civil rights investigation eight years ago, according to the documents, it was because of "financial reasons."

But, now, not only have some innocent children been seriously hurt, Metro is facing lawsuits that could cost taxpayers millions of dollars.

The Metro Nashville Public Schools system provided the following written statement:

"We are aware of recent allegations of inappropriate behavior on our school buses and, not only are we investigating these allegations at the district level, we will cooperate fully with any outside agencies involved in this investigation. Because of state law (TCA 37-1-612) pertaining to child sexual abuse allegations, we are prohibited from providing any information relating to specific investigations However, it is important for the community to know the employees of MNPS enter the field of education because they love children and want to be a positive influence in a child's life. Any report of an incident that would harm a child is distressing not only on a professional level, but also on a personal level as our employees are parents and citizens of our community. MNPS is currently reviewing its policies and procedures regarding training for drivers, communication between drivers and principals and DCS and the police, investigative procedures, assignment of adult monitors on buses, etc.  MNPS currently employs a limited number of bus monitors and educational assistants and uses cameras to help monitor activity on buses. We take these allegations very seriously and intend to protect children while they are in our care."

Watch more videos and follow the stories at NC5 Investigates: Stories of Abuse

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