LEXINGTON, N.C. – A school bus driver is under investigation in Davidson County after she allegedly tied down a student with special needs on her bus.
Chris Logan and Kerri Conley told FOX8 their 10-year-old son Allen has disabilities including autism.
"He has a lot of energy! Just a big bundle of energy," Conley said. "He's such a happy kid most of the time.”
But lately, they said, Allen had been acting out more than usual and did not seem as happy. They consulted doctors and even altered medication, hoping to help him.
Allen attends Stoner Thomas School in Lexington for students with disabilities. His ride to school every day can be more than an hour and a half, his parents said.
On April 3, Conley was surprised when a social worker came to their home.
"I get a knock on the door in the afternoon and it's DSS with pictures, a statement, and a report from the school saying that we were reported for possible child abuse," Conley said.
She was shown pictures of Allen with red marks on his arms and wrists. The social worker had already interviewed Conley and Logan's other children in school and wanted to look through their home.
"I felt so violated... We had no clue what they were talking about. When he left for school that morning everything was fine," she said.
A detective with the Davidson County Sheriff's Office started investigating also.
"A week later, that's when we were notified it wasn't us. That they went through footage on the bus and that it was his bus driver," Conely said.
Logan said he went over the video with the detective.
"The bus driver stops the bus, walks back there and you can see her get into his seat and you can see her pulling up like she's tying shoe laces. You can see what looks like to be scarves," he said.
According to state law called the Deborah Greenblatt Act, using seat belts or approved safety restraints is allowed during school transportation. But using mechanical restraints such as tying, taping or strapping down a student is prohibited.
Conley and Logan said they'd complained about the bus driver before. Weeks ahead of this incident, Logan said the woman asked him how to control Allen from getting out of his seat on the bus.
Logan said he advised her to talk to the principal and the transportation personnel about more effective restraints on the bus.
Logan said watching the video was hard.
"It was terror for me. Watching him and he don't know what's going on, being tied down. It almost brought me to tears. I really wanted to jump through that screen and pull that bus driver off of him."
Logan said the Superintendent did call him. "She said the only thing they had in plan was educating and training the bus drivers in how to properly keep the kids in their seats."
Logan and Conley said they haven't heard much else, and they still have a lot of questions. They don't know how many times their son was improperly restrained, if it ever happened to other students and whether the driver accused will face charges.
"Special needs or not, they're responsible for our kids," said Conley. "That's our precious cargo."
Assistant District Attorney Greg Brown told FOX8 the Sheriff's Office investigator in charge of this case is out of town, but they are planning to sit down with him this week to go over additional investigative information.
The Davidson County School System confirmed a bus driver was terminated on April 7 of this year by the principal of Stoner Thomas.
FOX8 is not releasing the bus driver's name because there are no charges filed in the case yet.
Allen's family said they are grateful the principal and other staff reported any suspicion of abuse.
She also said Allen had been acting much more like "himself" since a new bus driver took over his route.
FOX8 has recently aired two other stories about Stoner Thomas School, located in Lexington. Parents and the community have been pushing the school board for more funding because it is not properly adapted for special needs, yet serves nearly 100 special needs students.
The Superintendent said the Board of Education added $1 million in funding to their budget requests for next school year for renovations and additions at Stoner Thomas. That budget will be presented to the Board of County Commissioners for approval Tuesday, April 13.