S.C. school district pays $2M to settle lawsuit after child with autism attacked on school bus, attorney says

The case stemmed from a Nov. 5, 2018, incident on a Chesterfield County school bus.
Surveillance video from November 2018 shows a student hitting another one who is said to have autism, attorneys for the victim's family said.
Published: Sep. 1, 2022 at 10:35 AM EDT
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CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, S.C. (WBTV) – The Chesterfield County School District has reached a multi-million-dollar settlement with the family of a child with autism who was attacked on a school bus, attorneys said.

According to Patrick McLaughlin with the Wukela Law Firm, the South Carolina Department of Education paid $187,500 and the Chesterfield County School District paid $2 million to settle the case and, “keep a Chesterfield County jury from performing a cost analysis of their conduct in this case.”

“The Chesterfield County School District (and other school districts across the state) can now analyze the cost of not protecting special needs children on school buses: it costs $2,187,500.00 Dollars to ignore the safety of special needs children on school buses,” a statement from the family’s attorney said in part.

Officials with the Chesterfield County School District said they’re thankful the lawsuit, “resulting from a tragic, unfortunate and unexpected occurrence,” has been resolved.

“We certainly regret deeply that this child suffered. We do not agree or accept the characterization of the case by the family’s attorneys, the degree of fault on the district’s part or of its superintendent at the time, Dr. Harrison Goodwin, who served our district and community honorably and well during his tenure in Chesterfield County,” the school district said in a statement.

The case stemmed from a Nov. 5, 2018, incident on a Chesterfield County school bus. Surveillance footage shared with WBTV by McLaughlin a few months later showed the then 4-year-old girl, who is nonverbal, quietly riding to school strapped to her seat in a harness.

Related: Parents demand changes after 4-year-old with autism attacked on SC school bus

About 20 minutes into the ride, a boy gets on the bus. For the next hour, he is seen on the video repeatedly punching and hitting her. According to a Chesterfield County Sheriff’s Office report, the girl’s parents noticed bruises and bite marks on her left leg and arm, her lip was busted and she had a mark on her neck.

In January 2019, the substitute bus driver, identified as Ronnie Sires, was charged with criminal neglect of a child. The Chesterfield County School District said at the time he was also placed on administrative leave.

According to the family’s attorneys, the parents of the child, identified as A.A., spent four years fighting, “to hold accountable those who knew special needs children were being needlessly endangered and to force change.”

McLaughlin said that a 6-year-old non-verbal, autistic boy was also attacked 12 times, and without A.A’s parents’ determination, the other child’s family would have no idea he was attacked, the bus driver would still have his certification, and the Chesterfield County School Board would not know their special needs bus operations were “needlessly endangering students.”

“Special needs children in Chesterfield County are safer today because of this family,” their attorneys said.

Morgan Newell will have more on this story this afternoon on WBTV.