Columbus police probing physical abuse allegations against 10-ye - WRBL

MCSD to release controversial bus surveillance video Friday morning

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COLUMBUS, Ga. -

Friday morning, Muscogee County School District is expected to release bus surveillance video of a 10-year-old autistic boy whose parents allege he was abused by school employees.

Interim Superintendent Doctor John Phillips will also make comment on the incident.

The family involved is Lisa and Ed Jenkins and their 10-year-old son George. The couple said George was physically and verbally abused while riding a Muscogee County school bus. The two said they want the school employees, who they believe hurt him, to be held accountable.

The school district said they were waiting on a waiver form from the Jenkins family before releasing the footage. The family refused to sign it at first because the waiver requested to disclose/release "bus videos and the communications relating to such videos, regardless of whether those communications would otherwise be subject to protection, including protection under FERPA?... absent a full waiver, the videos cannot be discussed or explained in context of agreements about George's programming."

The family altered the waiver to only release the video of the February 7-th incident and the district accepted the alteration.

On Thursday, Dr. Phillips released a statement saying, "The district is committed to protecting the safety and rights of all its students and employees and, based on the information it has, believes that its staff's actions were consistent with that commitment to student safety." 

Meanwhile, Columbus police are looking into the allegations. The probe started because of an e-mail a family friend sent to law enforcement after viewing school bus surveillance video of the alleged incident.

George's mother explained that every school day, their son rides a school bus to therapy sessions after his day at Hannan Elementary. She said riding along with him is a para-pro, a school employee who monitors his behavior during the trip.

The Jenkins alleged that during a bus ride on February 7th the para-pro assaulted their autistic son after he was repeatedly asked to get off the bus. They said their review of the surveillance tape makes that clear.

"George starts beating himself and they don't stop him," said George's mother, Lisa.

His father, Ed, said he was angered and humiliated when he watched the video.

"She holds him down. physically abuses him and you can tell by her voice and the little audio I could hear he was verbally abused," added Ed.

Earlier this week, the district issued a written statement. It said they were attempting to resolve an open records request filed by the station, while still protecting the privacy rights of the minor. However, the Jenkins family had told News 3 they had waived those privacy rights.

The family has also provided News 3 with a number of emails from school officials. One showed that on February 19th, the district's director of special education Patrick Knopf wrote, in part, "Will also look into what is going on with the personnel in the afternoon and what training, etc needs to happen. We will work on it."

In another e-mail from the district, on March 14th, the chief of student services, Melvin Blackwell, told the Jenkins the district has modified their procedures to address the concerns of the family. But the couple said that's not enough.

"This was a criminal act and they will be held responsible... they have to be," said Ed. 

In further response to News 3's request for the surveillance video, earlier this week the district also released another written statement.

It said, "The district has followed the appropriate protocol for agencies who have a right to see this video. It has been viewed by a member of the Sheriff's Department and Columbus Police Department. We have been very transparent with agencies that have a right to see privileged information. In addition, a letter was sent from the superintendent to the parents asking permission/approval to allow the district to disclose the video and all the information related to the media requests. In addition, a call was also made previously to the parent requesting a response to the superintendent's letter."

When News 3 originally requested the surveillance video school district spokeswoman Valerie Fuller said the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, FERPA, prohibits the district from releasing it. FERPA is the federal law that protects children's educational records. However, the Jenkins said when they asked for the tape, under FERPA, school officials responded by email, saying "they are not FERPA records. They are not created for educational purposes."

No one from the district is yet willing to respond to this contradiction, so News 3 has been unable to get any clarification.  

Sydney Cameron

Sydney joined the WRBL news team in December 2011 after working as a freelance reporter in Washington, D.C. More>>

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