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Draper parents outraged by Canyons district handling of abuse claims

Published May 28, 2014 9:52 am

Letter • Parents say they were not alerted and kids' safety was neglected.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A group of Draper parents says the Canyons School District neglected the safety of special needs students who were assigned to the bus routes of a driver accused of molesting a 5-year-old.

In an open letter sent Tuesday to the Canyons school board, parents also claimed that the district disciplined an employee who alerted Draper families that their children's bus driver, John Martin Carrell, was being investigated on allegations he abused a student at Altara Elementary School in Sandy.

Carrell, 61, was charged last week in 3rd District Court with 23 first-degree felony counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child. He is scheduled to make his first court appearance on Wednesday afternoon.

"We have been shocked at the callous disregard by the Canyons School District officials with respect to the welfare of our children," the letter states. The parents of four special needs students at Draper Park Middle School signed the letter, saying they should have been told of the allegations immediately.

"Two of [the four children] are nonverbal, including my daughter," said parent Scott Askew. "That means they're more vulnerable."

The district did not tell parents — or police in Sandy or Draper — that Carrell had more bus routes than the one where he is accused of abusing a child, the letter states.

"The school district denied us our parental right of knowing the risks our children had been subjected to, the opportunity to investigate what may have happened to our children, and the ability to seek professional care and assistance," the letter states.

Canyons spokeswoman Jennifer Toomer-Cook has said the district notified Sandy police because that was the jurisdiction for the only allegation of misconduct. She said the district did not notify others because the investigation was pending. The parents' letter claims that another district official, spokesman Jeff Haney, said fears of a lawsuit by Carrell prevented the district from repeating the allegations to others.

Instead, a district employee volunteered the information to a Draper parent, who then called Draper police; about three weeks had passed since the district first received the allegations.

That employee later clammed up, saying district authorities had issued a reprimand and threatened termination, Askew said. Askew would not identify the employee, saying the person fears being fired.

"Of all the things they've done to infuriate us, that's about the most infuriating: that they would threaten the only person who had the courage to do the right thing," Askew said.

Toomer-Cook said the district has "not been able to find evidence of those things."

"We don't have any record of anyone being disciplined in this way," she said.

The letter also claims that Carrell was allowed to begin his route the day after the district received the allegation of misconduct. The allegation was made after business hours, Toomer-Cook said; the district began their investigation and removed Carrell from the bus mid-route the next morning.

The parents and the district also are at odds over whether students were adequately supervised on the bus. The parents' letter claims two of the children's special education plans required that they be accompanied by an aide while riding the bus, but that didn't always occur; Toomer-Cook said bus records show the children always had an aide with them.

Askew said the parents are seeking an independent investigation of the district, particularly the decision not to alert Draper police or parents proactively.

"It appears that the school district may have undertaken a deliberate strategy to withhold information from law enforcement and the parents," the letter states.

ealberty@sltrib.com Twitter: @erinalberty