By Donna St. George and Arelis R. Hernández
The parents of a preschool student in Prince George’s County said Tuesday that county officials recently informed them of an investigation into allegations that a bus aide molested their 4-year-old son last November, and they said they don’t understand why it took so long to look into the alleged abuse.
Child Protective Services contacted the family last month, seeking help in identifying a boy believed to be their son in a still image from a video that apparently was made in November. The parents said CPS officials told them the video showed a bus aide having inappropriate contact with the child inside a school bus.
The parents identified the child as their son, they said. The father, who described his son as a special-needs child with verbal delays, said CPS officials indicated the video came to light when another preschool child complained in May.
“It’s unacceptable that they waited so long to notify us,” said the father, whom The Washington Post is not identifying to protect the boy. He said he was shocked, hurt and crying when he learned of the alleged misconduct. “The individual who did this to my child is still walking the streets.”
Prince George’s police said Tuesday that they began a joint investigation with CPS in June related to the case. In August, investigators received more information from a family involved, they said, and they soon plan to bring the case to prosecutors for consideration of criminal charges against the bus aide, police Lt. David Coleman said. The alleged abuse involves one child, although other students were on the bus, he said.
John Erzen, a spokesman for the Prince George’s County state’s attorney’s office, said that his office was notified of the case Tuesday and that prosecutors will be meeting with police within a week to determine whether charges are warranted. Sometimes, he said, further investigation is needed after such meetings.
It was unclear why the case was not made public sooner, especially given that the county school system has been receiving scrutiny for lack of transparency in alleged abuse cases and failing to safeguard the children in its care.
A school volunteer was indicted this year with 270 counts of child pornography and related charges amid allegations of video-recording children as young as 9 years old performing sex acts. More recently, federal authorities found corporal punishment and humiliation of children in the district’s Head Start preschool program and revoked a $6.4 million grant.
Kevin Maxwell, the school system chief, said Tuesday that he placed the bus aide and a supervisor on administrative leave after he learned of the allegations during the first week of school in August. All parents with children on the bus have been notified, he said.
Maxwell on Tuesday cited another unspecified allegation of potential misconduct against a Prince George’s principal, but he declined to discuss details, saying that the allegation came by email and was referred to police. Letters to parents went home Monday saying that a principal was put on leave. The Post is not identifying the principal because no charges have been filed and the nature of the alleged misconduct has not been released.
“These have been some very difficult months for our school system,” Maxwell told reporters Tuesday afternoon.“But we will continue to work on the culture in our school district.”
School board member Verjeana M. Jacobs said the latest allegations of abuse are shocking and said it is troubling that school board members “once again” learned of them through media reports.
“The incredible lack of accountability and transparency is the culture of the school system right now,” Jacobs said. “It seems the adults are more concerned with protecting themselves than ensuring a culture and climate of safety for children.”
School board member Edward Burroughs III voiced similar concerns, asking: “How many more incidents of abuse have to occur? This is not isolated. This is systemic and widespread.”
Following the February abuse scandal involving school volunteer Deonte Carraway, Maxwell appointed a safety task force that recommended a series of improvements designed to protect students and ensure allegations of abuse are reported.
The school board took action to change district policies over the summer. Maxwell said he believes the improvements are having an effect.
“I do believe that the training that we undertook as a result of the incident at Judge Sylvania Woods last year has increased, I know it has increased, the number of reports that we are getting in our school system,” he said.
The father of the 4-year-old said the family and their attorney have plans to meet with police Thursday to review the footage from the bus video. Police declined to comment on whether there is a video or what it might show.
The father noted that the bus aide was assigned to his son’s bus all school year, and he said he worried that the alleged abuse could have taken place repeatedly after the alleged incident in November. Looking back, the parents said they recall their son crying at the prospect of getting on the bus.
“He didn’t want to get on the bus,” the mother said.