Durham News

More bus monitors could cost $5 million

The chairwoman of the Durham school board says members will consider putting a monitor on every school bus, in light of alleged sexual assault on the back of a Durham school bus.

Two mothers say their 5-year-old sons were forced to perform oral sex on older boys on the bus. No charges have been filed and school officials say they have had difficulty identifying the possible suspects.

Now officials are investigating another reported sexual offense with a third possible victim. The incident was reported as occuring on the same W.G. Pearson Elementary School bus three weeks after the initial allegations. According to a police report, a sexual offense is alleged to have occurred Sept. 17 on the 4000 block of North Roxboro Street.

A bus monitor was placed on the bus on Sept. 29, the same day the incident was reported by two people, including a pediatrician.

According to Ken Gattis, the senior research and evaluation coordinator for the Department of Public Instruction, said a “sexual offense” is committing a sex act against someone’s will with the exception of sexual intercourse. It could mean unwanted oral sex or unwanted anal sex.

Police would not say what kind of sexual offense they are investigating.

Superintendent Bert L’Homme said at a press conference two weeks ago that the bus driver was doing his job: driving safely and keeping his eyes focused on the road.

“The better thing to do (to ensure student safety) is put another adult on the bus,” L’Homme said.

But having a monitor on every bus could cost the Durham Public Schools more than $5 million, according to the transportation staff.

There are currently 76 bus monitors in DPS that put students in their seat and ride the bus until all the students get off at their stops. There are 262 buses in the district and 56 of them have monitors. Bus monitors make $12.66 an hour plus benefits.

District officials say buses have traditionally been provided with monitors to “assist students with exceptionalities.”

The district is now determining how best to provide monitors to assist with student management.

School board Chairwoman Heidi Carter said the the board needs to make sure there are no downsides to expanding the bus monitor program.

“But if that is what it takes to ensure student safety then that’s what we will certainly do because safety is our number one priority,” Carter said.

The bus where the original allegations occurred was carrying students from kindergarten through fifth grade home on Sept. 11 on the 5200 block of North Roxboro Street.

Two Latino mothers, said their 5-year-old sons were sexually assaulted by three older boys. One mother said her son described oral sex and said he was forced to perform and receive it. She said he was hit by the three older boys who pinned him down until he complied.

The other mother said her son, who knows very limited English, told her the older boys made her son kiss their private parts.

It is the policy of The News & Observer not to identify people who are reported to be the victims of a sexual assault.