JCPS withholding bus surveillance from mother after first-grader's altercation
"He slammed me down into the seat, and when I got back up, he hit me on my head and squeezed my chin," said 7-year-old Kevin Mitchell.
The first-grader hasn't been back to Minors Lane Elementary School since Monday, the day he walked off the school bus with marks on his face.
He told his mother the school's success coach hurt him on the bus ride home.
"I was out of my skin. I was appalled. I was heartbroken that I couldn't be there with him and I don't understand why no one can answer what happened," said Joi Offut.
His mother can't get her answers because JCPS won't let her see the security video from the bus.
Offut took her son to Kosair Children's Hospital and contacted Child Protective Services.
She also went to talk to the school principal, the JCPS central office, the district's transportation and security hub and spoke with Crimes Against Children.
District officials refused our request for an on-camera interview instead writing, "The video on our bus doesn't show anything that could remotely be construed as an assault...JCPS follows FERPA in order to protect the privacy rights of all students."
The Federal Education Rights and Privacy Act allows parents to inspect their student's education records -- in this instance, the bus surveillance video qualifies.
But it also prevents such records from being released to outside parties.
JCPS says because other students can be seen in Kevin's altercation, the district can not release the security footage to his mother.
"Technically they are right. They have to protect the privacy of other students on the video," said attorney Teddy Gordon, who tells WDRB he takes at least two calls a week with similar complaints.
There is Kentucky case law to support the stance of JCPS.
But he says the district's opinion on FERPA forces parents to sue for their child's records and goes against the intent of the law.
"What should happen is the parents seeking the video should be able to see the video, and the other faces -- if they're visible -- should be clouded or pasted over. It's very easy to do," Gordon said.
WDRB has learned JCPS spent nearly $2 million in the last few years installing cameras on almost every one of its bus routes.
That means parents are paying taxpayer money for cameras they're now being denied the right to see.
"They carry weapons, knives, they carry baseball bats, found a pistol Tuesday afternoon. Not sure if it's a bb pistol or not -- we don't know," said John Stovall, the head of Teamsters Local 783.
The head of the bus drivers' union explains his drivers are concerned for their safety as serious incidents on JCPS routes have escalated this year.
The district is now paying off-duty police officers to ride six of its most troubled routes from Kammerer and Frost Middle schools.
"Tell me what happens on your bus," WDRB's Gilbert Corsey asked Kevin.
"Like people scream and fight," the 7-year-old responded.
"Have you ever gotten in a fight on the bus?" Corsey followed.
Offutt does not contend her child did nothing wrong, though she says she should not have to fight this hard to see for herself.
"I waited and I was patient and I was gentle with these people, but no one was gentle with my child. I don't think it's fair," she said.
Joi Offutt says she is a cousin of Me'Quale Offutt, the 14-year-old boy who died after being stabbed on a TARC bus earlier this year. The grand jury did not charge the man who stabbed Offutt after TARC surveillance video showed he acted in self-defense.
WDRB is not identifying the staff member in question because he has not been charged with anything. He remains on the job during the investigation.