I-Team: Video captures bus driver bullying disabled student in San Jose

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ByDan Noyes via KGO logo
Saturday, November 7, 2015
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A disabled student in San Jose accidentally recorded the school bus driver bullying him. The video prompts an I-Team investigation.

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- An angry confrontation on a school van is exposing a serious lack of training for drivers responsible for children with disabilities in the South Bay. The 14-year-old's family saw the video and contacted the I-Team for help.

A San Jose school district requires training for all its drivers who transport special education students. But, a contractor hired by the district does not. A video taken by the teen shows just how important that training is.

Dominic DeLeon is 14 years old and faces some tough challenges in life. He has Prader-Willi syndrome, a genetic disorder that leads to uncontrollable hunger, stunted growth and behavioral problems. His mother wondered why Dominic was acting up even more in recent months.

"Usually, I have to get him off the bus because he has thrown a tantrum in there," said Stella DeLeon, Dominic's mother.

Stella finally got hard evidence. Dominic pulled out his tablet on the way home from school one day in September.

"I wanted to take a picture, show my dad," Dominic said.

He mistakenly started recording video, and captured three minutes of taunting and threats by his school van driver.

Driver: Put it down right now.

Dominic: No.

Driver: I'm going to f***ing hit you.

Dominic: Don't touch my f***ing iPad.

Driver: F*** you, dog, shut up. Shut up, dude.

Dominic: (unintelligible)

Driver: Mother f***er, I'm going to kick your ass.

When Dominic's parents saw the video about a week later, it shook them to the core.

"It made me sick to my stomach, you know. To me, it sounded like instead of being an adult, he was being a bully," said Stella.

The driver named Paul made fun of Dominic.

Driver: You little girl.

Dominic: No!

Driver: You're a girl, dude.

Dominic: No.

Driver: You hit like a girl, you look like a girl, you act like a girl.

Dominic: No!

Driver: There's no boy signs, anything.

Dominic: No.

"Paul said bad words to me like, 'Little baby, cry like a little baby, like a girl,'" Dominic said.

The driver encouraged other kids in the van to pick on Dominic, and threatened to tell his father.

Driver: Maybe after I talk to your dad, maybe he'll whoop your ass afterwards.

"It makes me furious, you know, but you can't take matters into your own hands. You have to go through the right channels," said Junior DeLeon, Dominic's father.

That's what the DeLeons did.

The I-Team was there when the family brought the video to East Side Union's transportation director. Julie Kasberger promised to investigate.

"We take this very seriously," Kasberger said. "The most important thing for us within the transportation department is to ensure that kids are getting to and from school safely."

Kasberger explains the district trains all its van and bus drivers in handling special needs students. But they have only 35 vehicles for 90 routes, so they contract out with a San Jose company.

Safe Trans Transportation is a local business and the owner, Hung Nguyen, refused an on-camera interview.

His training consultant said off-camera Safe Trans bus drivers also receive training for special education students, but van drivers, like the one who taunted Dominic, don't get the training. The driver named Paul has been fired. The DeLeon's attorney says the school district should provide aides for the vans, given the severity of the students' disabilities.

"It's insane that there are no behavioral aides on this bus. The fact that they need those at school, a rule of thumb, they probably need that support on the bus, too," said Deborah Jacobson, a special education attorney.

Jacobson said that while there is case law requiring aides, there are no state or federal regulations for them. She added these kinds of situations are common, we just don't hear about them, because many of the students can't communicate well. "This happens all the time and you just don't see it," said Jacobson.

"This happens all the time and you just don't see it," Jacobson said.

And that's why Dominic's video is so important. If he hadn't pressed record on his tablet, the DeLeons might still be in the dark.

"It's not OK, it's not," Stella said.

The San Jose Police Department said they have an open, active investigation into the matter. They have sent it to their family violence unit that oversees their child abuse team.