The New York State Education Department has launched an investigation into two school bus abuse cases in Buffalo.
Buffalo police continue to investigate claims a 6-year-old boy was sexually abused by a 12-year-old while riding a Buffalo school bus back in December. A local parent group has since filed a federal complaint, and is pushing for the Buffalo Public Schools to require bus aides on every school bus.
In a separate case, the mother of a 9-year-old South Buffalo elementary school student claimed that her son was physically and sexually assaulted on a school bus without an aide back in November.
The investigation follows a letter from Senator Tim Kennedy (D-Buffalo) to State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia that asked the department for an independent investigation. Kennedy also asked for a thorough look into any incidents of abuse or violence reported on school buses over the past year, and an examination into whether bus aides should have been present at the time of the alleged incidents.
“Our children deserve to be protected without question, both in and outside the classroom. While these allegations of abuse continue to be investigated by authorities, I’m grateful that Commissioner Elia has heard our call and ordered an additional state investigation,” said Senator Kennedy.
In a statement, the Buffalo Public School's COO said he welcomes the investigation. The statement went on to say "While we have evidence that refutes the allegations cited in Senator Kennedy's letter, we are awaiting the outcome of a full investigation by the Buffalo Police Department on these same matters."
The Catholic Diocese of Buffalo also released a statement saying "Our investigation of the allegation of abuse, including a review of the videotape, does not support the claim of abuse."
In a new letter, Elia says she has directed the Pupil Transportation Safety Institute to investigate the abuse allegations raised on the school bus. The Institute, which is contracted by the Department, is responsible for reviewing all allegations of fraud, waste and abuse in pupil transportation operations.
Elia noted that NYSED has created a new position, the Director of Pupil Transportation, which is responsible for improving training for student transportation drivers to ensure that safety and efficiency is prioritized. Additionally, Elia said the Director will begin conducting safety audits of local school districts and bus contractors to guarantee that all regulations are being met.
Currently, NYSED oversees school district provision of transportation for students attending both public and nonpublic schools. The department also has authority over hiring qualifications for school bus drivers, monitors and attendants, and administers an annual School Bus Driver Safety Training Program, which educates employees on safety protocols.
According to its website, approximately 2.3 million students ride 50,000 school buses each day across New York State.