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Utah parents want bus aides, investigation after abuse claims

Published June 11, 2014 5:39 pm

Safety • A petition is circulating to ask for an independent investigation, more aides on special education buses.
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Parents told Canyons School District leaders this week that they must do more to protect special education students following the recent arrest of a bus driver for allegedly molesting a student.

Board member Tracy Scott Cowdell said he couldn't give specifics, but said the district is taking their concerns seriously.

"Just because it isn't obvious that certain things might or might not be being done doesn't mean that it's not happening," Cowdell told parents. "Just because we haven't announced there has been a private or independent investigation doesn't mean there hasn't been one."

He said the district is doing everything it can within the parameters of the law.

The parents want the district to require aides on all of its special education buses. And they want to see an independent investigation into the district's actions following the driver's arrest, said Scott Askew, who spoke on behalf of the group.

Driver John Martin Carrell, 61, is being investigated on allegations he abused a student at Altara Elementary in Sandy. He's been charged in 3rd District Court with 23 first-degree felony counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. A scheduling conference has been set for July 3 in West Jordan before Judge Bruce Lubeck.

Askew and others say parents on the driver's other routes weren't informed of the arrest. Jennifer Toomer-Cook, a Canyons spokeswoman, said Wednesday she can't publicly discuss why more parents weren't informed.

"These could have been your children riding that bus," Askew told board members Tuesday evening. "Something is wrong when a school district meticulously notifies parents that their children have been exposed to lice, but purposely fails to notify parents that their children have been directly exposed to the danger of a sexual predator."

Askew's 13-year-old daughter is a special education student at Draper Park Middle School and is non-verbal. Askew and his wife, Carol Askew, along with three other sets of parents recently sent an open letter to the district outlining their concerns.

Carol Askew also started a petition online calling for an independent investigation and for aides to be put on all special education buses. As of Wednesday, the petition had more than 600 signatures.

At the board meeting Tuesday, another parent also asked the board to vote to put aides on all special education buses. The board did not vote on the matter Tuesday, but board president Sherril Taylor told parents, "We will seriously consider your input."

Now, aides travel with students on buses when their individualized education programs call for it, but otherwise, aides are not automatically assigned to special education routes, Toomer-Cook said.

"In a general sense, special needs children especially, because many of them … are non-verbal are very susceptible to abuse," Scott Askew said.

Canyons' current practice, however, seems to be in line with those at many other Utah districts. The Salt Lake City, Granite and Alpine districts don't automatically assign aides to all special education routes, and instead base the decision on a number of factors.

Glenna Gallo, director of special education at the State Office of Education, said Utah school districts generally don't automatically place aides on all special education routes. She said if the concern is that it could be unsafe leaving special needs students with just a bus driver, that same logic could apply to a teacher in a classroom as well.

It's not unheard of, however, for some districts in other areas of the country to place aides on all their special education buses.

Sgt. Dean Carriger with the Sandy Police said police are still reviewing video from the bus routes to see if there were additional victims.