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Nonverbal Erwin boy injured on special needs bus; mom wants action taken

Sue Guinn Legg • Mar 20, 2019 at 11:59 PM

ERWIN — An Erwin mother is seeking justice for her 10-year-old, nonverbal son, whose face a school system statement said was badly scratched by a nonverbal kindergartener on a special needs school bus Friday afternoon.

Samantha Adkins told the Johnson City Press Wednesday she does not agree with the school system’s position that the bus attendant acted responsibly in the incident, in which her son Jesse suffered numerous fingernail scratches to the forehead, temple and cheek surrounding his left eye.

In addition to scratches that broke the boy’s skin, causing minor bleeding, Adkins said health care providers believe his cornea may also have been scratched, resulting in swelling beneath his eye.

Adkins said considering “the amount of time it took for that much to happen, it seems somebody would have made a noise and somebody could have paid attention.”

She feels the school system should reprimand the bus attendant and raise the bar for hiring for that position.

“They need to take it more seriously. You’re not …. flipping burgers. You’re responsible for human beings that have no voice of their own. Special needs children need special care,” she said.

According to a statement issued by the school system, neither the driver or a bus attendant heard or saw anything unusual until sometime after the boy was injured.

Director of Schools John English said the school system is anticipating a lawsuit and is limiting its comments to a written statement reviewed by the system’s attorney.

By issuing the statement, English said the school system wanted to share “as much of the facts as possible” in order address some misinformation that has been circulated.

School system statement:

“We are aware of an unfortunate incident that occurred on one of our special education buses during the afternoon route on March 15, 2019. While the bus attendant was in the back row of the bus sitting between two students who needed his immediate attention, a kindergarten student scratched a second grade student on the face very badly in the front of the bus. Neither the bus driver or attendant heard sounds of distress from the injured student. Prior to this incident there were no indications from bus personnel or teachers and staff that there would be any foreseeable issue between these two students who were seemingly friends.

“As soon as the bus driver became aware of this student's injuries, he had the attendant check on this student. He then called ahead to the next school and had the nurse standing by to render aid as soon as the bus arrived. The nurse called the mother of the injured student to let her know what had taken place. The bus driver then worked to collect as much information as he could so our special education teachers could address the educational and behavioral needs of both students involved.

“The health and safety of the students in Unicoi County is our first priority. We deeply regret this incident for all students involved and have offered support to the students and families, including the offer to pay for medical expenses incurred on March 15.

“The administration of Unicoi County Schools recognizes and appreciates that the bus driver, bus attendant, and nurse all acted responsibly in this situation. We will continue to study the incident closely over the next few days to develop a plan so that events like this do not reoccur on our special education buses in the future.”

English told the Johnson City Press Wednesday school officials have met with the 5-year-old and her mother and offered support.

He said the girl has no history of aggression. Nothing has been discovered to suggest anything that would have provoked the incident, nor anything that would merit any action involving the 5-year-old. 

“They sat together every day and, seemingly, they were very friendly with each other,” he said.

“It was a very unfortunate incident and we’re heartsick for Jesse.”

Adkins said Jesse is taking antibiotics prescribed because of the scratch to his cornea and over-the-counter medications for pain.

She said she has begun to reach out to lawyers and is waiting to hear from a Sheriff’s Department investigator who told her he would speak with the district attorney general and get back to her.

While her son is “mostly nonverbal, Adkins said he utters “a few words here and there,” and commonly squeaks or screams to express displeasure.

“There are only three or four rows of seats on each side of those little buses and if (the attendant) was in the back, he was only two or three seats away.” she said. “How do you not pay attention for that long? If you are going to take a job with special needs kids you better know something about special needs kids,” she said.

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