A Pierce County school district failed to act on clear evidence they had a problem with violent outbursts on a school bus transporting special education students. The KING 5 Investigators found the district’s inaction led to at least two students with special needs being assaulted and traumatized.
In April 2017, security camera footage from a Sumner-Bonney Lake School District school bus showed four-and-a-half-year-old special needs preschool student Myla Marshall getting hit, punched, scratched and bitten by another student with severe special needs. Afterward, the district failed to institute safeguards to ensure it didn’t happen again. That led to a similar incident on the same bus route one year later — on May 7, 2018.
“They did nothing. They did nothing. They put no safeguards in place,” said Myla’s mother Monika Blaylock. “I think it was very negligent, and I think it was very irresponsible.”
The incident in 2017, during which Myla screams for her mom and dad 115 times, left her with bite marks and bruises up and down her left arm and scratches that drew blood on her forehead. Her family said it also left Myla, who is now six, anxiety-ridden. It’s been nearly two years since the event, yet her mother said she still suffers from night terrors and now takes medication for anxiety. Myla is also in counseling to deal with the trauma.
The mother of the child who exhibited the violent behaviors said her daughter is a victim as well. She said her daughter’s actions are directly related to her disabilities — she couldn’t control her outbursts. Her disabilities include autism and Tourette syndrome.
After the incident involving Myla, the mother said agreements were in place with the district to seat her daughter away from other students on the bus. A review of several bus videotapes reveals that wasn’t happening. Day after day, the child sat right next to other students, without a seat belt in place.
“They set her up for failure. They (the school and district) set her up to fail,” said the mother who asked not to be identified. “They did not follow through with the agreements we had. I put way too much trust in the school district.”
The mother said her daughter had “numerous” issues on the bus in the Sumner district, yet when she asked for a para-educator (an aide) to ride the bus with her daughter, which is a service she was provided at her previous school district, officials from Sumner said they didn’t have funding for that.
“My child is not a bully. She didn’t choose to be disabled,” said the mother. “If the adults did what they’re supposed to do these incidents would be avoidable.”
A representative from the Sumner-Bonney Lake School District declined repeated requests from KING 5 to interview district Superintendent Laura Dent. Instead, the district sent this statement: “Student safety is the district’s paramount priority. We do everything possible within our means to ensure the safety of all students,” wrote district Director of Communications Elle Warmuth. “Due to confidentially (sic) laws regarding student privacy and discipline, the district is unable to give details about student situations.”
Without a para-educator helping the child with uncontrolled behaviors and without follow-through on agreements the mother said were in place to keep her daughter separated from others, another child suffered nearly the identical situation as Myla Marshall.
On May 7, 2018, a year after the episode involving Myla, 11-year-old Marie Chisholm-Colt’s head was yanked, slapped and punched 60 separate times by the same student.
“They set (Marie) up to have her life destroyed,” said her mother Amy Chisholm. “They knew a year before that this child (had dangerous behaviors) and they did nothing. She sat behind my daughter all school year. (Since Marie is mostly non-verbal) 'How many other times did this happen? How many times was she hit and not able to tell me?'”
Chisholm said the district let her and her daughter down the very day after Marie came home on May 7, 2018 with scratches across her forehead. That night Chisholm said she spent an hour on the phone with school and transportation department officials to make sure that, going forward, her daughter sat away from the child with behavior challenges. But the next day, May 8, 2018, bus security tape viewed by KING 5 shows no change in seat assignments. The special needs child who attacked Marie the day before was once again placed directly behind Marie, with no additional supervision and no seat belt. When Marie's nanny questioned the bus driver about the seating, the driver is recorded on the tape saying she was in the dark about the incident and had no orders to make a change.
"What happened? I wasn't here yesterday," said the driver. "I better see what happened. Nobody said anything."
"They knew that things went wrong. They knew my daughter was attacked yet they did nothing to prevent it (from happening again) even the next day," said Chisholm.
It’s been nine months since Marie’s incident and she still will not get on a bus. Her mother has had to quit her job to be able to drive Marie to and from school every day. Chisholm said that prior to the episode Marie loved school and looked forward to the bus. Now she begs to stay home. And for the first time in her life, Marie takes four different medications for anxiety.
“They’ve destroyed my daughter’s life, she is not the same person she used to be. I don’t know if she’s ever going to be any different,” said Chisholm.
Chisholm said her daughter no longer enjoys activities such as playing outside and visiting a bouncy house. Instead, she said her daughter is fixated on being reassured she won’t have to ride the bus again and that her mother will drive her to and from school instead.
“No bus, no bus; mom drives me to school,” said Marie when KING 5 visited the family’s home in January.
“She’s so traumatized that that’s what she does all day. She has to be reassured over and over and over again that that’s what we’re going to be doing,” said Chisholm. “Our whole family is in crisis and the only thing (the district) has offered to do is pay for our gas to get her to and from school.”
“I think they’re (the district) is covering up. I think they’re trying to avoid the issue that autistic students are not given adequate supervision, they’re not being treated right. Their rights are being disregarded,” said attorney Evan Oshan who Chisholm has retained to consider legal options.
KING 5 asked the district why a child with uncontrolled behaviors was left to her own devices on the bus. The district said they couldn’t answer student-specific questions. In a statement, they wrote: “The district continuously monitors the behaviors of all students and takes swift, appropriate actions to help students be successful and help ensure unfortunate incidents aren’t repeated. We will continue to work with individual students and families to address and resolve issues.”
Chisholm said she’s pleaded with school and district officials to help her daughter access specialized therapy to deal with the trauma, but so far she said they’ve refused to provide those resources. Currently, Marie is on a waiting list for ABA therapy (help specifically designed for people with autism) that would be paid through their insurance.
“I do think Marie would benefit from ABA therapy. The behavior therapy is for continued growth and to reduce challenging behaviors, especially when Marie has experienced such a traumatic event,” said Dr. Gary Stobbe, Marie’s neurologist at Seattle Children’s Autism Center.
“The hardest part is that she’s gotten no help,” said Chisholm. “Every part of her screams out for help.”
Since KING 5 first reported on the assault on Marie in December, the Sumner School District has taken action. They’re now providing a full-time aide on the bus for the student with behavior challenges. They’ve also formed a Safety Advisory Committee that will “immediately begin identifying ways to increase student safety on buses.”
All three families said they are considering suing the school district.
Amy Chisholm has set up a special Facebook page, called DoubleDareAutism, dedicated to bringing awareness to issues such as those facing her daughter.
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