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Probe into sex assault of boy on Buffalo school bus faces complications

Investigating claims of sexual assault is complicated, particularly when it involves children.

There’s the sensitive nature of the allegations. There’s the age factor. There are privacy concerns.

That’s the dilemma as authorities and school officials investigate allegations that a 6-year-old boy was sexually molested by a boy twice his age while riding on a Buffalo school bus in December.

The boy’s mother on Friday stood by her son’s claims.

But another side of the story also began to emerge.

The 6-year-old, who attended a Catholic school on the West Side, was diagnosed with emotional and behavioral problems and qualified for special-education services. He has been difficult for teachers to handle and has had a pattern of disruptive behavior at the school, according a source familiar with the situation.

“He’s a smart kid, but his outbursts are difficult to tolerate,” the source said.

The boy has made obscene remarks to his female classmates in the past, and allegedly has made a number of comments that never turned out to be credible, the source said.

So when the boy and his mother came forward with the allegation, school officials investigated and, based on interviews with the other children on the bus, couldn’t find anything to substantiate the claims. The bus driver saw nothing “out of the ordinary” that day and the boy was sitting in his designated seat near the front.

The school eventually decided to remove the boy because it didn’t have the necessary support to educate him.

The source asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the case, but wanted the school’s side of the story heard to alleviate concerns among parents.

In fact, at one point, the 6-year-old took back his statement and apologized to the other boy, according to two sources familiar with the situation.

What adds to the murkiness of the case is that there apparently was no video footage from the bus. Despite earlier statements from the mother that police had reviewed video that supported her son’s claims, authorities on Friday said that’s not true.

There is no video describing or showing the alleged incident from the bus, said Kriner Cash, superintendent of Buffalo Public Schools, which provides transportation for students attending diocesan schools.

One city official on Friday believed it had “timed out,” meaning it had stopped recording.

Officials with the Catholic Diocese of Buffalo, meanwhile, would not comment on the allegations because of state and federal laws protecting student privacy, but in a prepared statement said it is now in the process of conducting a thorough investigation.

Police also are investigating.

The 6-year-old had complained to his mother since November that he was being bullied while on the bus home, and on Dec. 2 told her he was forced to perform a sexual act on a 12-year-old boy while on the bus.

The next day, she went to the school to report the allegation and show scratch marks on her son’s arms. The two boys were brought face to face in a school hallway and questioned, the mother recalled on Friday.

“This is not even the way you’re supposed to ask the kid,” the mother told The Buffalo News.

At one point, the school accused the younger boy of lying and told him to apologize to the older boy, the mother said. Her son is now attending a public school in Buffalo, the mother said.

The allegation is coming to light now because a parent group, acting on behalf of the boy’s mother, filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights in effort to force the district to provide bus aides on every school bus.

The District Parent Coordinating Council believes there’s a sense of urgency after Buffalo police investigated a separate, but similar complaint on another school bus without an aide.

In that case from late November, 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 – reported that the two fifth-graders pulled her son’s pants down and punched him “in his privates and his behind.” While the two were doing this, one of them took the boy’s head and put it on his privates, according to a police report.

Police would not comment on the status of that case, either.

This latest allegation, however, was enough to raise the ire of city lawmakers.

Council Members Richard A. Fontana, Christopher P. Scanlon and Ulysees O. Wingo Sr. held a news conference Friday afternoon on the steps of City Hall, where they called on the school district to put bus aides on every bus.

The superintendent on Friday said the district has 463 bus aides, but on any given day, 20 or 30 of the positions are not filled because the aides don’t come to work and a substitute cannot be found.

“Right now we understand there’s a $5 million budget gap to put bus aides on every single bus,” Fontana said. “I’m calling for that to happen: a bus aide on every public school bus – especially ones that have a history of problems.”

Scanlon raised questions when the first allegation came up in November. He had hoped that was an isolated incident.

“We’re looking for some change,” Scanlon said. “We’re looking for some reforms.”

City officials welcome a conversation about bus aides with representatives from Buffalo Public Schools, Wingo said. Cash and some of his administrators have agreed to attend a coming meeting of the Common Council’s education committee.

“We all share the same sentiment,” Wingo said. “We all want our children to be safe, but we need to start finding how we can do that and discovering other ways by which we actually find how we can work together and move forward.”

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