DECATUR — Decatur School District officials say they are using available technology and following state law in their investigation of a student's reported assault on a school bus, but the victim's father said he's frustrated by a lack of clarity about the district's response.
Chris Urbanowicz said his 14-year-old daughter brought candy to school on Monday and other students on the bus took it away from her. When she turned around to take it back, another student pulled her jeans, leggings and underwear down, he said.
The incident was widely publicized on social media, with more than 900 people sharing a Facebook post in which Urbanowicz described what happened and hundreds of others left comments. Questions were raised about how the other child would be disciplined, but school officials say state law prohibits them from releasing that information or sharing video footage of the incident with Urbanowicz, who has requested it.
“Parents don't understand the use of video in discipline actions,” said Randy Dotson, coordinator of transportation for Decatur schools. “The (Illinois School) Student Records Act means it's protected. We can't just show them. The police can see it, and we look at it and try to make determination as part of the evidence.”
Alltown Bus Service took over bus operations this school year in Decatur. All the district school buses are new or almost new, and have the latest technology. Each bus has at least two cameras, one in front and one in rear, and some even have a third. When an incident occurs, there's a recording of it for school officials to watch to identify the students involved and determine what the consequences should be.
Alltown has no power to exclude a child from the bus, said Todd Covault, the school district's chief operational officer. That is a function of the school district. Bus drivers can only make incident reports. Action is determined by the district. In the case of a fight, for example, the bus driver can pull to the side of the road and call for police to be sent to the location, but the driver can't discipline students, he said.
Urbanowicz said he had called Alltown, Stephen Decatur Middle School, the Keil Administration Building and the police. Part of his frustration stems from the fact that it's been several days and he still has not received answers, he said.
“No one will help me figure out what to do to to help me get her justice,” he said. “It's set her back with her anxiety so far, and it's a horrible thing to witness as a parent.”
Covault said investigations into incidents take several days, because administrators review the video, identify the kids involved, interview them and witnesses and determine a course of action. He said parents don't realize the district can't give them any information about discipline meted out to a child other than their own.
“We understand it's frustrating for parents,” Covault said. “They never get to hear what happens. We follow the student code of conduct, and it will be applied in this circumstance as it is in all other circumstances, but we can't tell them any details at all.”
At most, Covault said, the district can inform the parents that the situation has been resolved, but that's it.
“It takes a while for any investigation,” Covault said. “We take very seriously this type of situation.”