The Grade Blog

Thursday, Nov 21 2013 05:33 PM

Parents express concerns at meeting after alleged bus assault

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    A few concerned parents including Martha Elias, gesturing, discuss concerns about the alleged sexual assault on a Fruitvale Junior High School bus on Oct. 22. This Thursday afternoon meeting was a routine School Site Council meeting at Fruitvale Junior High.

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    By Casey Christie / The Californian

    Fruitvale School District Superintendent Mary Westendorf answers a few concerned parents' questions during a routine School Site Council meeting at Fruitvale Junior High School, regarding an alleged sexual assault on a school bus on Oct. 22.

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BY COURTENAY EDELHART Californian staff writer cedelhart@bakersfield.com

A handful of parents expressed fear for student safety Thursday during a meeting at Fruitvale Jr. High School, a month after the alleged sexual assault of a 13-year-old girl on a school bus.

"When students don't behave the way we expect, when they do something wrong, is there a program in place to deal with that, like Safe School Ambassadors?" asked Martha Elias, 50, who has an eighth-grader at the school.

She was referring to a national program that trains students to stand up for peers who are being bullied and to report problems to adults.

Fruitvale does not participate in that particular program, Principal Leslie Roberts said, but she added that the school encourages a "culture of respect" in many ways, including incorporating anti-bullying instruction into the curriculum and providing students with ways to report problems anonymously.

Superintendent Mary Westendorf and Assistant Superintendent Matt Torres attended the meeting as well. The superintendent assured parents that last month's incident was not indicative of the overall climate in the district. She said policies and staffing, however, are under review.

The district has 12 bus routes and is considering having aides ride on some longer routes with large numbers of children, she said.

Even parents who said they were worried took pains to say they supported and respected administrators. One father gently chastised fellow parents for raising the matter at a school site council meeting, where teachers, administrators, parents and young student leaders meet to discuss campus activities.

"This is not the forum," said Dean McGee, 50, the father of an eighth-grader at Fruitvale, who suggested that parents with concerns should attend a school board meeting or schedule a private appointment.

On the afternoon of Oct. 22, three boys allegedly assaulted the 13-year-old eighth-grade girl on a bus delivering children home from Fruitvale Junior High School. None of the passengers on the bus reported anything and the driver said he didn't see it, but a video camera aboard the bus captured the incident, which lasted 17 minutes.

Two of the boys were expelled and a third was subject to unspecified disciplinary measures.

The girl's family filed a claim against the district on Monday, and is being represented by attorney Daniel Rodriguez.

The Kern County Sheriff's Office is investigating.

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