June Keel, assistant superintendent of human resources for Metro Schools
Special-needs advocate Erin Richardson with The Arc of Davidson County
Metro school officials say they got the message about a series of sexual assaults on Metro's special-ed buses.
This summer, they launched an ambitious effort to put aides on every single one of those buses.
And now, they say, they're almost there.
Our chief investigative reporter Phil Williams first exposed the problem, and he says it's a big turn-around.
At first, school officials had claimed they just couldn't find people for those jobs. But they did find them, and they're now riding the buses to protect the children.
"There's only so much that one person can do," said Metro school bus driver Susan Pregel.
For years, Pregel has driven some of Metro's most challenged students to and from school -- keeping one eye on the road, the other on the children behind her.
But these days, like more and more of Metro's special-ed bus drivers, Susan doesn't ride alone.
"You have four eyes instead of two eyes -- and you can definitely see if something is wrong," Pregel said.
While Pregel watches the road, bus monitor Leland Croyles tends to their fragile, special-needs passengers.
"As a monitor, I help the bus driver tremendously cause I'm -- like I said -- her eyes in the back of the bus," Croyles added.
In fact, there are a lot more monitors on a lot more buses. Four months ago, Metro had just 10 monitors for its 217 special-education buses.
Today, there are 179.
And school officials -- who'd worried that they couldn't find enough people who wanted to work a split shift --say they expect to have monitors for all 217 buses in just days.
"Actually it was not as hard as we thought it would be," assistant superintendent Dr. June Keel said.
"The fact that we're offering benefits, I think, attracted people to the position -- and we just had much greater interest in the position than we thought we were going to."
Metro school officials had balked at hiring the monitors. Then, Mayor Karl Dean intervened. And in June, the Metro school board ordered that they be hired.
"The bus monitors are doing an excellent job with our system, and I think everyone will agree that they have been a wonderful addition to our program," Keel added.
But the school system's belated response comes at a price. The U.S. Justice Department has now intervened in a lawsuit filed by one of the victims.
Then, there are the emotional consequences.
Kolby Harris, the alleged 19-year-old perpetrator of one of those sexual assaults, has now been committed to a psychiatric hospital.
And a student named Gilbert, victimized at the age of nine, recently tried to burn down his own house, according to a court affidavit from his mother, "because he said that 'the voices told him that the boy,' Kolby, 'was coming to get him."
"The board did the right thing," said special-needs advocate Erin Richardson with The Arc of Davidson County.
"But it took an awful long time for them to do the right thing. And, again, in my view, it happened only as a result of a great deal of pressure."
Still, drivers like Susan Pregel are looking ahead, while their new monitors try to make sure there are no more victims.
"It allows me to be a bus driver and it also eases my mind that I know a child is being watched more carefully," Pregel said.
Advocates like Erin Richardson say -- just because the school board responded to the pressure -- it still doesn't mean they "get it."
And that's where the Justice Department comes in. It hopes to get a court order that will hold Metro's feet to the fire.
As for the new hires, school officials say they're putting them through extensive training... to make sure that they're up to the job.
School officials say they still need to hire a few more monitors. If you're interested in applying, contact Metro Schools.