PARK HILLS - Following a Monday afternoon meeting, Central R-3 Superintendent Desi Mayberry told the Daily Journal that district officials believe the issue of a 14-year-old student with Down syndrome accused last week of sexually harassing a bus aide “has been resolved.” The child's mother; however, said she strongly disagrees with Dr. Mayberry's assessment of the meeting and that only one thing has been settled for certain.
"Nothing was resolved except we agreed my son will move to another school district after the end of Christmas break, with Central R-3 picking up the cost of tuition," the mother said.
She also revealed that she is already in discussion with another unidentified school district, but no firm decision has been made about where the boy will eventually attend school beginning in January.
When asked Monday, Dr. Mayberry refused to disclose who had been in attendance at the meeting or what topics had been discussed. The student's mother; however, was more than willing to offer details of the meeting held at the district office in Park Hills. She said the meeting was attended by herself, her son's home aide, the boy's father and his father's girlfriend. Representing the school district in the meeting, she said, was Superintendent Mayberry and Assistant Superintendent Troy Bollinger.
In the meeting, the mother contends that Dr. Mayberry told her that a charge of sexual harassment against her son had been dropped. But she said that on Tuesday, juvenile court informed her there had been no change in the status of the case.
"I don't understand why the superintendent would say that to me if it wasn't true," she said.
Community reaction has remained strong since it was learned the 14-year-old had been accused of imitating a “sexual act” against a school district employee on his bus last Wednesday.
A petition posted at www.change.org demanded the school district drop all disciplinary action taken against the youth. By Monday evening it had garnered more than 500 signatures, as well as a large number of comments critical of the school district’s actions. The petition was eventually reopened on Tuesday due to the large response. There has also been a large number of Facebook postings about the incident and the story has now gone national with several major networks and websites picking up the story.
A report that Sen. Kevin Engler was initiating an investigation of the Central R-3 School District; however, was found to be untrue. Contacted on Tuesday, Engler said he "doesn't do investigations" and merely suggested to the family several state resources that might offer them assistance.
The incident at the center of the case is an allegation made by the school district that the teen grabbed and sexually assaulted an unidentified female bus aide while she was trying to help him off his school bus.
Mayberry described the school district's version of the alleged assault, saying, “The boy grabbed her around the waist and then got on top of her, moving in a sexual motion.”
The superintendent then said the aide “screamed for help,” which led the school bus driver to separate the student and the aide.
The boy's mother said that what actually happened last Wednesday is quite different than the version being offered by the school district.
"A disabled child can't be thrown off their routine," she said. "But that's what happened to my son last week."
According to the child's mother, the school bus overshot its stop in front of the family home. There were no other students on board except the 14-year-old.
"My son's home health care aide went up to the bus driver and commented on the driver's mistake," she said. "The driver responded, jokingly, 'Yeah, we were taking him back to school.’"
Upon hearing this, the boy's mother said her son became excited about getting a chance to once again "go bye-bye" and expressed this by hugging the bus aide while jumping up and down. The mother said she eventually tried to remove the boy from the bus, where he was now seated, but because of a physical disability was unable to do so. The teen was then promised a "surprise" in the house if he'd leave the bus, and eventually did so.
The mother insists it wasn’t the bus aide who screamed for help, but instead the boy's home aide, who called to her three times to help remove her son from the bus. The mother says she never saw the bus driver move from her seat to separate her son from the bus aide, or for any other reason.
After the boy left the bus along with his mother and the home aide, the mother said she had no reason to believe there had been any "sexual act" performed by her son on the bus aide, or that there was any problem at all.
"Nobody seemed upset or acted like there was anything wrong," she said. "We just got him off the bus and went into our house."
The mother said her first realization there was a problem occurred the following morning about 10 a.m., when she received a call from the school telling her to come pick up her son.
"They said he had been suspended from school until further notice for committing an act of "sexual harassment," said the mother.
Last week she publicly stated that the school district refused to cooperate with a request she made to be allowed to see footage of the alleged incident, despite the presence of security cameras on all district buses. The denial of the request was based, she was told, on issues of confidentiality.
The mother said that, because the tape seemed so crucial to the school district's case against her son, she was surprised when allegedly told by Dr. Mayberry in their meeting that the recording of the incident no longer existed.
She said, "He kept referring to the tape and what it showed, but then he told us it had been placed back in the bus where it would be, or already had been, recorded over."
Meanwhile, the student’s mother continues to maintain that no act of sexual harassment ever took place between her son and the bus aide. Instead, she says it was the natural reaction of a Down syndrome child she describes as “very loving” and more likely "to display more public affection than anyone else...”
"He was really just giving her a hug because he was excited,” she insists.
Kevin R. Jenkins is a reporter for the Daily Journal and can be reached at 573-431-2010, ext. 114 or firstname.lastname@example.org.