News Column

Bus Driver Accused of Duct Tape Discipline

Oct. 9, 2012

Jack Miles, The Daily Star-Journal, Warrensburg, Mo.

School District Superintendent Jeff Blackford declined to discuss allegations that a bus driver used duct tape to immobilize the wrists and ankles of a special needs kindergartner, and threatened to duct tape a special needs second-grader's mouth.

The second-grader's mother, Linda Lujan, discussed the allegations Saturday. The mother of the kindergartner declined an interview.

Blackford confirmed a review is under way.

"The district is conducting a thorough investigation into the allegations. Further, the district has taken and will continue to take appropriate actions in response to the allegations."

Blackford declined to say whether the district suspended the driver or other personnel who may have been involved in the silence that followed the allegation.

Lujan said she did not know about the allegations until about a week later.

Lujan said her sons, Connor, 7, a second-grader, and Chase, 6, a first-grader, rode the bus together about two weeks ago. They alleged the driver used duct tape to subdue a kindergartner on the bus. The driver also allegedly threatened and then tried to use duct tape to shut Connor's mouth, Lujan said.

Connor and the kindergartner have Asperger syndrome, a type of autism that sometimes is characterized by "poor social interactions, obsessions, odd speech patterns, and other peculiar mannerisms," KidsHealth reported.

Lujan said she knew nothing about the allegations until Thursday.

Revelations came to light when a man from the Missouri Department of Social Services, Out-of-Home Investigations Unit, arrived at Lujan's door. He asked to speak to her children.

"At this point, we still have no idea what was going on," she said while sitting on her living room couch with her children around her -- a little girl trying to walk with a foot in each of two stainless steel storage containers, a curious toddler wanting hugs, and Connor and Chase watching a PBS cartoon.

When Chase told the investigator a kindergartner had been duct taped, Lujan said, the news came as a shock.

"Chase held up his hands and said (the driver) duct taped (the other boy's) wrists," Lujan said. "I was like, Oh, my God,' and I walked out of the room because by then I was shaking. I was starting to freak out."

On the couch next to his mother Saturday, Chase said, "He got duct taped. That means he got his hands and feet stuck together."

Chase demonstrated by holding up his hands with palms together at the bottom.

Before the bus driver acted, Chase said, the kindergartner said "mean stuff. Screamed. ... Mean words."

After the investigator finished asking about the kindergartner, a new line of questioning started, Lujan said.

"At that point, he asked, "Well, what about Connor? Has Connor ever been duct taped?' And Connor said, "No, (but the driver) told him you either shut your f-ing mouth or I'm gonna tape your mouth shut.' Ooo, I got queasy," Lujan said. "I had to leave again."

While watching television in his living room Saturday, Connor admitted he had acted up on the bus.

"I was kicking the bus," he said, meaning the driver's seat in front of him. "I was looking out the window."

The driver reacted.

"I was having a bad day," Connor said, and the bus driver made a threat. "He was going to tape my mouth. ... Bad. (He's) not supposed to do it."

The driver tried, but failed to put on the tape, Connor said.

"I leaned my head," Connor said, and craned his neck to demonstrate, "so he couldn't tape my mouth. ... He tried to."

The bus driver is not under arrest and is not charged with a crime. Reached Saturday, he declined comment on the allegations, saying the district told him not to comment while the investigation continues.

Connor said he saw the kindergartner bound by duct tape.

"He was trying to get out of the tape," Connor said. "(He) wanted to get off the bus."

Connor moved to a different seat.

"So (the other boy) couldn't kick me or hurt me," Connor said, because the boy thrashed to get free of the tape.

Connor said he got mad about what happened to the other boy and told the driver, "Leave him alone."

For Connor and the other boy to act up, Lujan said, is common with Asperger syndrome and the district should have provided the driver with training to handle outbursts. She said she suggested training before the incident occurred, but the district did not grant the request.

"They didn't feel it was necessary at the time," Lujan said. "If they had just given him the training, he would have known exactly what to do."

Lujan said the investigator told her statements by Chase about the duct taping allegations matched with what others had said.

Lujan said district officials should have told her about the allegations immediately.

"The school didn't bother to tell me that my son might have been abused by the bus driver, they didn't tell me to expect somebody from DSS ... or say we need to interview him and find out what may have happened. They didn't do anything. The first hint of information we had was when DSS showed up at our door, and he didn't even tell us what was going on right away until he interviewed the kids. ... That infuriated me. I was so mad. ...

"Sorry, getting emotional."

Distributed by MCT Information Services

Source: (c) 2012 The Daily Star-Journal (Warrensburg, Mo.)