Saturday, March 1, 2008

NewsChannel 5 Investigates:

Mayor Demands End of Sex Assaults on Buses Posted: Feb 29, 2008 05:27 PM CST In a NewsChannel 5 exclusive, Nashville Mayor Karl Dean says it's time to do something about the sexual assaults on Metro's special-ed buses. "I want to get this cleared up and get this cleared up as soon as we possibly can," Dean tells NewsChannel 5 chief investigative reporter Phil Williams. For months, NewsChannel 5 Investigates has exposed problems on those buses. Now, Dean says enough's enough -- and he's getting personally involved. The mayor is telling the school board that he wants a plan on his desk in two weeks to end the sexual assaults of these vulnerable children. Phil Williams got the mayor's attention when he went to the school board demanding answers. "I think that the current situation ... is unacceptable," Dean says. While the mayor doesn't run the buses, he says that he can demand that the school board do something about the problem. "As a parent too, you don't even want your child's feelings to be hurt -- let alone to be physically hurt. So this is about as serious an issue as there can be." Our investigation revealed the heart-breaking stories of an 11-year-old autistic girl named Jenna and a 9-year-old boy named Gilbert. Months ago, Gilbert's mother was wanting answers. "I want someone to say this is why this was allowed and I want someone to say, OK, it's never going to happen again and this is how we are going to stop it," Kimberly Lopez-Ruiz told NewsChannel 5 Investigates. Now, Metro police say they've now got two new incidents they're investigating. Yet, school board chair Marsha Warden refused to tell Williams what's being done to protect other kids. "Excuse me, sir, I'm getting our meeting started," Warden said, walking away. "Can you tell me one thing you've done to protect the students?" Williams persisted. When she wouldn't answer, he asked, "How many more kids have to be molested?" Dean says, "Clearly, we have to move forward in a way that shows that we are addressing this issue, that we are going to take steps to make things better." Now, the mayor has written the school board: "The parents of our students need to know that when they place their children on our school buses that they are safe.... I am requesting that you ... provide a definitive plan that will give us assurance that this problem is being addressed." As to the solution, police say the most recent assaults could have been prevented if there had been aides on the buses. Williams asks Dean, "Do you think that is the solution and can the city afford it?" Dean answers, "With kids with special needs we have a lot of buses, but clearly cost should not stand in the way of making sure that people are safe." And while the city looks to protect other students, what about Jenna, Gilbert and the other students? "What would you say to those parents who's children may have been victims?" Williams asks Dean. "My heart goes out to those parents," the mayor says. "My heart goes out to those children. We need to get this right, and that's what we are going to do." The mayor sent his letter to school officials Thursday night -- and asked them to have a plan to him by March 14th. And, in case they didn't get the message, he'll have a chance to make his point again when those school officials come before him next Tuesday for budget hearings. TO SEE MORE INFORMATION

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