NewsNewsChannel 5 Investigates


Auditors: Schools Could Eliminate Bus Monitors

Posted at 10:00 PM, Apr 27, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-07 14:19:42-04

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- It was a string of sexual assaults on Metro's special-education buses that led to big changes to protect the children.

But now auditors say the city could save a lot of money by eliminating monitors who were placed on those buses, and the lawyer for one of those victims is sounding the alarm.

"It would be, in my judgment, an inappropriate and irresponsible decision to take monitors off the buses when we know there is a danger and and we know this will stop it," said Nashville lawyer Gary Blackburn.

NewsChannel 5 Investigates first exposed the sexual assaults, which led Metro to put the aides on those buses seven years ago.

One of those cases involved nine-year-old Gilbert Lopez, whose autism and mild mental retardation made him seem more like a five year old.

In an audio recording made by his mother, the young boy described the assault by another special needs student who was 10 years older than Gilbert.

Mother: "What did he say?"
Gilbert: "He my friend."
Mother: "That he's your friend?"
Gilbert: "He want me to lick him pee-pee."

His mother's reaction? "You almost want to stop time and go back and say is that what you really said," said Kimberly Lopez-Ruiz.

Mother: "And what did you do?"
Gilbert: "Me do it."

The lawyer, Gary Blackburn, said Gilbert "was profoundly fragile before this happened, but he was making progress."

"What happened to him destroyed him -- simple as that. He wound up institutionalized because of it. It was preventable, it was completely preventable."

After NewsChannel 5 Investigates discovered more sexual assaults and school officials refused to act, Mayor Karl Dean pressured the school board into placing monitors on every special-ed bus in the city.

Those protections were included in Metro's settlement of Blackburn's lawsuit, which had been joined by the U.S. Department of Justice.

But, in the recent report, outside auditors said Metro schools could save more than $700,000 a year by just putting monitors on school buses on an as-needed basis -- when officials determine that specific students have specific needs.

In other words, they suggested going back to the way things used to be.

"What price do you put on the safety of a child?" Blackburn asked.

Gilbert's lawyer said the city had to pay out twice that amount to pay for Gilbert's care. Factor in a second lawsuit over another sex abuse case, and the cost to taxpayers was almost $2 million.

He added that he just wants to make sure no other child has to endure such a painful ordeal.

"You fear there could be other Gilberts?" NewsChannel 5 Investigates asked Blackburn.

"I think it is inevitable," he answered, "that this will occur again if they take the monitors off the buses."

A school spokesperson told NewsChannel 5 that, right now, there is no plan to eliminate the monitors from those special-ed buses.

But Blackburn said that a Metro school lawyer would not rule out the possibility that the auditors' recommendation could be implemented down the road.

Metro Schools would have to go back to court to ask a judge for permission to pull the monitors from those buses.

To read a letter that Gilbert's lawyer sent to Metro lawyers, click here.