The lawyer for the parents of an 8-year-old girl with autism released a disturbing video that shows a California school bus driver taunting and manhandling the child.
“I’ve been doing work on behalf of physically and sexually abused kids for 17 years ― many times against school districts – and it’s beyond disturbing to me,” the attorney, Micha Star Liberty, told HuffPost.
The video, recorded on Feb. 6 by a surveillance camera on a Vacaville Unified School District bus, led to the arrest of Kim Cheryle Klopson, 64. Vacaville police have charged her with felony child abuse, to which she’s pleaded not guilty.
Liberty said the family plans to file a lawsuit against the district in the coming months.
Klopson, according to police, was transporting a group of students with special needs to Browns Valley Elementary School when the 8-year-old, a second-grader, was accused of blocking the aisle with her leg.
“If you stick your feet out again… you are going to be on the window,” Klopson can be heard saying on the video.
The incident appears to escalate when the bus arrives at the school. Klopson is seen on the video grabbing the girl’s backpack and ordering her to remain seated as the other students exit the bus.
When a paraeducator steps up to the bus, the driver is heard taunting the girl as she cries hysterically.
“She’s acting like she’s younger than her baby sister,” Klopson says. “She’s only two, how old are you? One? Oh no, a baby.”
Klopson can then be seen yanking the girl up.
“OK, so I get to do that again? Help you sit up? Get up,” Klopson says as she throws the girl down. “You wanna crawl, you can crawl.”
The paraeducator does nothing to intervene and after a few minutes Klopson closes the bus door, saying, “OK, we’ll be right there.”
Klopson can then be seen yanking the young girl around again as she continues to taunt her.
“Nah nah nah nah nah,” the bus driver says. “You done? Nah nah nah nah nah.”
Klopson then tries to force the girl’s backpack on her.
“Please stop it,” the girl cries. “I don’t want to. Stop it.”
Klopson replies, “No, I’m not gonna stop it.”
The video ends with Klopson dragging the young girl off the bus.
“It’s OK, I didn’t hurt her, guys,” Klopson can be heard saying to people outside the bus. “I mean you’re all like ― it’s OK. Bye… I’ll see you after school. That should be interesting.”
The incident left the girl with scrapes and bruises, according to Liberty.
“Instead of being taken to the principal’s office or nurse, she was taken to her classroom,” the attorney said. “She complained about physical pain and eventually she was taken to the nurse and the nurse reported it to the principal.”
Liberty said the family was not notified of the incident until the girl was back on the bus later in the day and on her way home.
“The parents asked what happened and they were invited down to the school to see portions of the video,” she said. “They were heartbroken, appalled and shocked.”
The Vacaville Unified School District claims they fired Klopson, but court filings indicate Klopson said she quit. The paraeducator who appeared to witness some of the alleged abuse is still employed by the district, according to Liberty.
“I don’t know how you can watch a child go through that and then allow the bus driver to shut the door,” she said. “It’s clearly despicable.”
Liberty said the bus incident has caused the young girl deep and ongoing mental trauma.
“She’s started therapy for the first time at the young age of 8 to try and work through the trauma that she’s experienced,” she said. “She’s having regressive behavior, nightmares and aversions to certain things. This has had a very significant impact on her.”
A phone number for Klopson has been disconnected. In a statement to The Reporter News, the school district said, “Please know that we take this matter very seriously and will continue to be forthcoming and collaborative with our families.”
Liberty called it “heartbreaking” that “this little girl was educated and trained to use her words and to say if she doesn’t want to do something. She was crying and she’s telling the bus driver, ‘I don’t like you’ and ‘I don’t want to’ because she was doing what she was trained to do to help herself. Yet this bus driver clearly wasn’t trained appropriately and didn’t behave in any sort of accordance with norms or standards.”