District beefs up security after alleged Durham school bus assaults
Posted October 2, 2014
Durham, N.C. — Durham Public Schools officials said Thursday that they are upgrading security on buses as they and Durham police investigate two alleged sexual assaults on a bus last month.
A school district employee has been assigned to ride the bus to and from W.G. Pearson Magnet Elementary School where the assaults allegedly occurred to monitor student behavior, Superintendent Bert L'Homme said. The district also is adding security cameras to every school bus that doesn't already have one, he said.
"Our highest priority is always the safety of every one of our students," L'Homme said. "Nothing else is more important than ensuring that our schools and school buses are safe and secure."
A mother told police on Sept. 11 that a group of older students forced her 5-year-old son to perform a sex act on a bus on the way home from Pearson Elementary.
The woman told WRAL News last week that her son was in the back of the bus with a group of 10-year-olds whom he did not know who took his shoes, pulled down his pants and assaulted him.
Two girls on the bus saw what happened, the mother said, and they told the boy's grandmother when she picked him up from the bus stop.
The woman says her son is no longer riding the bus.
Kammie Michael, a spokeswoman for the Durham Police Department, said a second mother reported Wednesday that her child also was assaulted on the bus on Sept. 11.
L'Homme said Thursday that school administrators and police have interviewed every child who rides the bus and the bus driver to piece together what happened.
"We are carefully determining which students were involved and what truly happened," L'Homme said. "These are serious allegations against very young children. Interviewing them and getting accurate descriptions and identifications has been a challenge."
School administrators haven't suspended any of the students who ride the bus because they don't want to punish the wrong people, he said.
Putting a "bus monitor" on the bus will ensure students remain in their assigned seats until they are dropped off, he said, and it allows the driver to focus on his duties instead of trying to maintain discipline in the back of the bus.
The mother of the first child claims school officials didn't respond quickly to her concerns, according to family attorney Marie Lang. Some parents said they believe the slow response was because the mother is Latino.
"If this happened with an American child, probably the school would be doing something the next day," said a mother of a child who rides the Pearson Elementary bus.
L'Homme said those accusations are unfounded, maintaining that the mother went to police before discussing the issue with Pearson Elementary administrators.
"We were in contact with police the same day it was reported to police," he said.
Lang encouraged students and their parents to come forward and assist in the investigation.
"The family has a lot of concerns, questions, (and) wants to know what happened," she said.