Protecting disabled kids

Jeff Kuhner

Sometimes you read a story that makes you wonder what the world is coming to. This was the case for me regarding the Chicago Sun-Times piece about the school bus driver and his aide, who got their kicks taunting and verbally abusing disabled students.

Cathy and Richard Bedard suspected that something was wrong on the bus being taken by two of their three special-needs kids. To find out, they placed a tape recorder in the backpack of their 13-year-old daughter, Tiffany. They were stunned at what they heard once Tiffany returned home and they pushed play.

"F---ing little monster," a man shouted at their 17-year-old son, Rick, who has Down syndrome. They also heard jokes about placing kids on the roof of the bus and threats to break a child's finger.

The driver and his "monitor" were subsequently suspended for six weeks. But First Student Inc., which was contracted by the school district to drive eight disabled children to a special-needs school in Chicago, thought it was appropriate to reassign the two men to another route following the suspension. In other words, they got a slap on the wrist.

When the district learned of this, it put First Student on notice that school authorities were reviewing the $1.5 million annual contract and would try to bid the contract out by the end of the school year. Now, First Student has suddenly gotten serious: They have decided to fire the two men.??????????

"We took swift action to suspend both the driver and the monitor. Following further investigation, we are now processing their termination," said First Student spokeswoman Kimberly Mulcahy.

This is too little, too late. The driver and his aide should have been fired immediately. Who knows how many other children--disabled or otherwise--have been victimized by these cowardly bullies. There are very few things more despicable than preying on defenseless, disabled children. They are unable to speak up for themselves, making them a particularly susceptible target for abuse.

Law enforcement authorities are investigating whether to press criminal charges. It's about time. These men need to be taught a lesson--and a stern one at that.????

As for Tiffany and Richard, their mother, Cathy, is vowing to spend her mornings and afternoons driving them to and back from school.

"I'm very frightened at the thought of putting them on a bus," she said.

??I wonder why.

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