CATAWBA COUNTY, N.C. (FOX 46) - The father of a 7-year-old autistic boy has filed a federal complaint against Catawba County Schools after his son was allegedly sexually molested by a 19-year-old mentally challenged student on a school bus.
The father filed the complaint with the United States Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights after he says, for the past 8 months, Catawba County schools has failed to notify him as to why a 19-year-old high school student was on his son's school bus for disabled elementary school children, and how long it had been going on.
Because of the nature of the story, FOX 46 Charlotte is hiding the identity of the father in order to protect his son's identity. The 19-year-old's real name will not be used as well.
The father says his son is a student at Clyde Campbell Elementary School, and that what happened on May 24, 2016, still gives him a sick feeling, as if it happened yesterday.
He tells FOX 46 Charlotte when his son got off the bus, his wife immediately noticed something was wrong.
"When my wife saw my son, his belt was undone, his zipper was down, and his pants were unbuttoned, so basically his pants were almost falling off," he said.
FOX 46 Charlotte has obtained video surveillance from the school bus on the day of the incident.
In the video, the bus driver yells to the boy's mother that an incident had occurred between her son and an older student they all refer to as 'Grandpa'.
"We're gonna investigate this a little bit more, an older student was with him," the driver said, before driving away.
"I began asking my son what happened," the father said. "I didn't want to imply anything because my son is autistic and he's seven years old. He informed me that 'Grandpa' had unbuttoned his pants on the bus, took his belt off, and touched him in his genital area, while he was on the bus. My heart sank into my stomach. I was also angry."
The father says he immediately contacted law enforcement, as well as the vice principal of Clyde Campbell Elementary School at the time of the incident, Kyle Stocks.
"Mr. Stocks contacted me and indicated he got a hold of the bus driver, and there was an incident that happened, and there was bus video," he said.
The father would later meet with district administrators to watch the video, which he has provided to FOX 46 Charlotte.
"The 19-year-old was walking up and down the aisle while the bus was moving, the bus driver and a bus monitor told the 19-year-old to sit down with my son. He's a disabled student who, unbeknownst to me and my son's mother, was on that bus, the school didn't tell us, they didn't inform us, there's no documentation," he said. "During the bus ride, you can see the 19-year-old sliding over towards my son, you can see his head going down past the top of the seat, and my son's head."
The boys sit next to each other for over 30 minutes, often disappearing below the headrests away from the camera, and the 19-year-old continues to slide closer to the boy, sometimes appearing to press his face against the boy's face while turning his body towards him.
Eventually, the 19-year old moves up to the front of the bus, and exits the vehicle.
It's when the son comes up to the front of the bus, that the bus monitor realizes his pants are undone, and starts questioning him.
"Why are your pants undone?" she asks.
"Grandpa did it," the boy replies.
"Grandpa unbuckled your pants?" the bus monitor asks.
"Yeah," the boy replies.
"Did Grandpa do anything to you?" the monitor asks.
"Yes," the boy replies.
The bus monitor then tells the bus driver that she wants to phrase the questions correctly so the boy can explain what happened.
"That wouldn't surprise me about [Grandpa]", the bus driver says in the video.
"[Grandpa] better not have touched him, that's the thing!" the monitor replies.
"What did [Grandpa] do?" the monitor asks the boy.
"He pulled my finger and my nuts," he replies.
"He put his fingers in your nuts?" the monitor asks.
"Yeah," the boy replies.
"Oh My God," the monitor says as she sighs.
"I feel ewwey," the boy says.
A short time later, the bus stops to drop the boy off, where off camera, his mother sees him with his pants undone.
"Grandpa did that momma!" the boy can be heard saying off camera.
That's when the driver tells her there will be an investigation, and the bus leaves.
"It was hard to watch, very hard to watch, I don't' want any parent to have to go through that," the father said.
The father told FOX 46 Charlotte that after he viewed the video, he removed his son from the bus and told district administrators he would never put him on a Catawba County Schools bus again.
"He had a forensic interview and it was proven he was assaulted, the 19-year-old was interviewed as well, the Catawba County Sheriff's Office was involved in that as well," he said.
According to the incident report from the Catawba County Sheriff's Office, the case was listed as indecent liberties with a child by having inappropriate contact with the victim.
The father says deputies told him the District Attorney wouldn't be charging the 19-year-old because of his disability, which he has no problem with.
"I'm completely okay with the 19-year-old not being charged, he's actually more disabled than my son," he said.
The father told FOX 46 Charlotte his problem lies with district administrators, and what he sees as a lack of supervision on the bus.
"In that video, there's children, disabled children, not sitting properly in their seats, they're laying from one seat to another across the aisle of the bus, children getting up and moving around," he said. "One female student has her head in the aisle way of the bus, so it's safe to say safety and monitoring aren't one of the most important things for the bus driver and monitor."
The father provided FOX 46 Charlotte with several emails he sent to district administrators with lists of his questions on district policy as to why a 19-year-old was on his son's bus.
In one email, former Catawba County Schools Interim Superintendent Dan Moore replies that he will answer his questions within 10 days, but the father says he never heard back, and still hasn't gotten any answers to this day.
"Why was there a 19-year-old man, disabled man, on my son's elementary school bus? Why was there not proper monitoring of this 19-year-old and the other disabled students?" The father said.
He tells FOX 46 Charlotte he wasn't provided the bus video or the district's internal documents about the incident until several months later after he had hired an attorney.
"I don't know why I had to hire a lawyer to get that information," he said. "I've lost trust in them, and by their lack of action to give me information, that kind of got me to the point where I can't trust them."
When FOX 46 Charlotte reporter Bill Melugin reached out to Catawba County Schools to get some answers, he was immediately referred to the district's Board Attorney, Cyrstal Davis.
Davis told Melugin that the district disagreed with the father's statements, and that they couldn't comment further because of student privacy laws.
FOX 46 then asked Davis if, as a matter of general district policy, could the district explain why an adult disabled student would be on a school bus with disabled elementary school children, and if it's the district's position that the bus monitor and driver were monitoring the students appropriately.
After 2 weeks, FOX 46 had not received a response, so Melugin reached out to Davis a final time.
In response, Davis wrote "Mr. Melugin, I have provided all of the information the Board can release in this matter. Thank you for your understanding."
The father tells FOX 46 Charlotte Catawba County Schools has never told him how long the 19-year-old had been riding his son's bus, and he noticed his son's demeanor completely changed in the months leading up to the incident, leaving him to wonder if it wasn't there first time it had happened.
"His whole character changed to the point where he was quiet when he came home, withdrawn, would go to his room by himself," the father said.
He provided FOX 46 Charlotte with several months of his son's daily classroom reports, which revealed the teacher often signed off that he wasn't eating at school.
The father says his son has been seeing a therapist in Hickory ever since the incident.
"He knows it was bad, he knows this 19-year old should not have been touching him, it makes him cry, and truthfully it makes me cry too," the father said. "I just want to reiterate, the only reason I'm doing this interview is to make sure that children, disabled or not, do not have to go through this ever again."
Catawba County Schools tells FOX 46 Charlotte that the bus driver resigned from his position in September 2016, four months after the incident in question.
FOX 46 Charlotte's request for the bus monitor's disciplinary records was denied because it's considered confidential personnel information.
An attorney with the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil rights has contacted the father, and told him they are currently looking into his complaint against Catawba County Schools.