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9-year-old attacked on school bus in South Buffalo

Buffalo school officials will look at trying to fill vacancies among bus aides after a 9-year-old third-grader from a South Buffalo elementary school was physically assaulted and possibly forced to commit a sexual act on one of his two fifth-grade attackers on a school bus Monday that did not have an aide.

The boy suffered bruises all over his body and possibly a broken nose during the assault, which occurred at about 5:30 p.m. in the vicinity of North Legion Drive and Cazenovia Street near Cazenovia Park, according to a police report obtained by The Buffalo News. The attack occurred while the child and other students were on their way home from an after-school program, according to police and the boy’s mother.

The mother said that she has complained for the last two years to school officials and First Student, the district’s school bus contractor, asking for a bus aide to be assigned to keep order but that her request has been denied.

In a City Hall news conference Wednesday, Will Keresztes, assistant superintendent of student support services, said the district will take another look at transportation services provided by First Student, including how to keep aide positions filled. School officials said the position has a high turnover rate. Keresztes also said Superintendent Kriner Cash has a number of concerns, is evaluating the performance of First Student and will be meeting with company executives Monday.

Meanwhile, Buffalo police are conducting an investigation that schools officials expect to be completed next week.

In part, the police report filed by the mother stated that “two young males in fifth grade did pull her son’s pants down, punch him in his privates and his behind. While suspects were doing this, the unknown suspect took complainant son’s head and put it on his privates.”

The alleged attackers have been removed from the school, and a district investigation also has begun, school officials said. First Student officials also are conducting an investigation.

In a statement released Tuesday, Keresztes said that disciplinary action began after school officials learned of the incident:

“The district was informed of an incident of student misconduct on a school bus involving elementary-aged students. The police are completing their investigation and, on the strength of the complaint, the district has commenced long-term suspension proceedings.

“Our expectation is that First Student, our contracted transportation vendor, will preserve all employee statements, video footage and all other pertinent information needed to assure a comprehensive investigation by the Buffalo police and the school district.”

The mother, according to the police report, contacted First Student and was told the bus company has secured footage from a camera on the bus.

When a First Student official was asked whether there was adult supervision on the bus besides the driver, he declined to comment, referring questions to the company’s corporate offices in Cincinnati.

But Sean McCabe, First Student’s area general manager, said company security personnel have initiated an investigation into the incident. Chris Kemper, a corporate spokesman, confirmed that the bus did not have a monitor.

“We’ll do whatever we can to support any and all of the investigations,” Kemper said. “There was a video, and we have reviewed it with members of the transportation department at Buffalo Public Schools and it appears that our driver followed the correct procedure and protocol, but we will certainly continue to investigate.”

The district hires school bus aides, but not every school bus is staffed with one. District spokeswoman Elena Cala said the district is not required to have bus aides. She also pointed out that 70 percent of buses in the district have aides, a figure that is above the national average.

The mother said that when her son arrived home at about 6 p.m., the bus driver informed her there was “a minor altercation” on the bus involving her son. “She said she didn’t know there was a problem, except that the kids were a little nosier, until he started screaming bloody murder,” the mother said. “I took my son upstairs and examined him, and he had marks all over his body, his groin, his back, his buttocks, his head, his face. He was really beaten.” She said the she took him to Mercy Hospital for an exam later Monday evening.

The mother said it remains to be determined whether a sexual assault occurred.

“The doctor examined him and documented where he was injured,” the mother said. “We have referrals to specialists and he is going to be getting counseling.”

Her son, she said, can be rambunctious at times but is not a fighter.

“He was in the back of the bus when this happened, and he is supposed to sit in the front of the bus because he’s jumped over seats in the past,” she said, in explaining why she has sought a bus aide to keep order. “This is a safety issue. I’ve been fighting for school bus aides for two years and have been told there is no need because there are no special-ed students on the bus.”

The driver, she said, cannot be expected to focus on the road and make sure students behave at the same time.

“I don’t feel it was the school’s fault. They have no control over whether there are aides on the bus,” the mother said. “It’s all the fault of First Student and the Board of Education.”

email: lmichel@buffnews.com Deidre Williams contributed to this report.