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Second report of sexual assault on Buffalo school bus renews call for bus aides

A 6-year-old Catholic school boy was sexually molested by a student twice his age while riding on a Buffalo school bus in December, his mother said.

The allegation is coming to light now because a parent group has asked the federal government to step in and require aides on all school buses in the City of Buffalo. There’s a sense of urgency, parent leaders said, after Buffalo police just two months ago investigated a separate, but similar, complaint on another school bus without an aide.

“This is an unsafe situation,” said Samuel L. Radford III, president of the District Parent Coordinating Council. “To have 50 kids of all ages on a moving bus and to say that the only adult supervision is the one who is concentrating on driving doesn’t make sense. No one is concentrating on the behavior of the 50 children.”

The mother said her complaints fell on deaf ears at the Diocese of Buffalo and the West Side Catholic school her son attended, so the parent council last week filed a complaint on her behalf with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights. The Buffalo Public Schools provide transportation for students attending diocesan schools.

The mother said she told the school on numerous occasions that her son was being bullied on the bus home from school, according to papers filed with the complaint. Then, the boy came home on Dec. 2 and told his mother he was forced to perform a sexual act on a 12-year-old boy and that the older boy also performed a sexual act on him while on the bus.

The school told the mother it conducted its own investigation and found the boy’s claim to be untrue. The bus driver saw nothing “out of the ordinary” that day and the boy was sitting in his designated seat near the front, according to a letter the school sent to the mother.

There also are conflicting accounts about video footage from the bus.

The mother said she was originally told by the school principal that the video footage was reviewed and did not back up the boy’s story. The mother was later told the principal had not seen the footage and it could not be recovered.

Police, however, found that the video footage from the bus was, in fact, consistent with the boy’s story, according to papers filed with the federal complaint.

The investigation is continuing, Buffalo police said Thursday. Radford said the mother received a reply from the Office of Civil Rights indicating that the federal office also is opening an investigation.

Meanwhile, the boy – a special-education student diagnosed with emotional and behavioral problems – has since been kicked out of the Catholic school. The school told the mother it didn’t have the necessary support to educate the child.

When officials at the Catholic school learned of the allegation it was reported to Buffalo Public Schools, since it allegedly happened on a public school bus, said Kristina M. Connell, communications manager for the Diocese of Buffalo.

“The request for the student to transfer to a new school had nothing to do with the alleged incident on the bus,” Connell said in a prepared statement. “In order to safeguard and respect this student’s privacy, we do not discuss or release student information.”

Officials with Buffalo Public Schools and First Student, the district’s transportation provider, also declined to elaborate Thursday, but confirmed that they were made aware of the allegation.

Buffalo police, meanwhile, are still investigating a separate incident from late November.

In that case, 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 while on a bus without an aide, that child’s mother reported.

The mother – who said she had complained to the district for two years about getting an aide on the bus to help keep order – reported that the two fifth-graders pulled her son’s pants down and punched 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 police report said.

At that time, the district said it would take another look at transportation services provided by First Student, including how to keep bus aide positions filled.

The district uses a fleet of 667 buses and indicated in November that about 56 percent had bus aides, who earn roughly $15,000 a year. Those familiar with the situation indicated the figure was closer to 30 percent on a daily basis. The job has a high turnover rate, officials said, so hiring and retaining aides is a challenge.

City Hall lawmakers even weighed in at the time, calling on the Board of Education to work with First Student to immediately staff each bus in the district with at least one aide.

In this latest allegation, the boy’s mother filed a sworn statement along with her complaint to the Office of Civil Rights. This is her account, taken from those documents:

Her son began the first grade at the Catholic school last fall, and by November was complaining that he was being hit and called names on the afternoon bus home.

At least three times, the mother reported the bullying to the school, but the principal never responded to the complaints.

On Dec. 2, her son came home from school with bleeding wounds on his hands and spit on his coat. That’s when he told his mother that an older boy on his afternoon bus forced him to do a sexual act.

The next day, the boy’s mother called Buffalo police, who told her to inform the school and ask the bus driver if her son could identify the older boy. The mother reported the incident to the bus company and drove to the school, where the boy’s teacher began to look into his claims.

The following week, during an already scheduled special-education meeting, the school’s principal said she had reviewed the videotape from the bus, but it didn’t corroborate the claims made by the boy. The principal also interviewed other students, who said it was the boy who scratched and threatened to do harm to himself.

The mother then called Child Protective Services, who suggested she reach out to the Catholic Diocese. She spoke with the superintendent of Catholic schools who said the principal had not actually seen video from the bus. The superintendent also said the school had no obligation to report the incident, because it didn’t take place at the school, the mother said.

About two weeks after the alleged incident, the Child Advocacy Center contacted Buffalo police, who opened an investigation.

By the end of the month, the mother received a letter from the school informing her that interviews with other students did not support her son’s claim, video footage from the bus was not recovered and her son could not remain enrolled at the school.

Her son was interviewed by police, who said they, in fact, had viewed video from the bus and the boy’s statements about being bullied and sexually assaulted “were consistent with the video tape they had viewed,” the mother said.

The mother eventually connected with Radford and the District Parent Coordinating Council, which regularly challenges the district on a variety of issues. Most recently, the parent group took their concerns about admissions criteria to the Office of Civil Rights.That’s the route the group took again in an effort to force bus aides on all Buffalo school buses.

“There needs to be a sense of urgency,” Radford said. “Common sense tells you when you have unsupervised children on a bus you are vulnerable to a dangerous situation happening.”

“There’s nothing we can do about the past,” Radford said. “The most we can do is learn from it and prevent it from happening in the future. Our focus is getting bus aides on every bus as soon as possible.”

News Staff Reporter Lou Michel contributed to this report. email: jrey@buffnews.com and dswilliams@buffnews.com