A family released video of their 8-year-old daughter being roughly handled by a former Vacaville Unified School District driver transporting students with special needs, and their attorney says they believe there are other alleged victims out there.
The incident happened on February 6 outside of Browns Valley Elementary School, and video footage shows bus driver Kim Klopson, 64, pulling the girl out of her seat on the bus, as well as standing over and taunting the 8-year-old, who is diagnosed with autism.
The girl is seen screaming and crying inconsolably as she first falls down into the aisle of the bus, and then is pulled up by her sweater and admonished to stand up. (Students’ faces, including the 8-year-old’s face and name, have been edited out on request of the girl’s attorney.)
"They are horrified," attorney Micha Star Liberty, said on behalf of the parents. "Every time they watch the video it’s excruciating and difficult to watch their daughter go through this experience."
The trouble seems to start when the 8-year-old supposedly blocks another student from walking down the aisle. Klopson walks toward her to reprimand her.
"If you stick your feet out like that again to keep her from moving, you are going to be on the window," Klopson can be heard saying. "Got it? Good. Because your bad behavior is not accepted."
When the bus arrives at the elementary school, other students are let off, while the girl is told to stay.
"We’ve been having a battle of the wills here," Klopson says to an adult, who has been identified by other media outlets as a paraeducator.
After all the students have left, Klopson tells the girl to get her backpack, but is heard crying and refusing to leave. "You can whine all you want, but it doesn’t work on my bus," Klopson says.
"She’s just having a little tantrum," the driver again explains to the adult outside.
"She’s acting like she’s younger than her baby sister," Klopson says to the student, taking on a sing-song voice, as the girl begins to cry.
"She’s only two. How old are you?" Klopson continues. "One? Oh no, a baby."
Klopson then begins to struggle with the girl, and the girl’s leg kicks out. Klopson is seen leaning over the girl in her seat, saying to her, "You might think you can get away with this, but not on my bus. Now, you ready?"
The girl is then pulled out of the seat by her sweater by Klopson. The girl hits the ground with a thud.
"You want to act like a baby?" Klopson continues. "Good. Let’s go." The driver pulls the girl up by her sweater as she continues to cry.
"Please, stop it," the girl screams.
"I’m not gonna stop it unless you stand up," Klopson replies. The girl is again lowered to the ground as she is repeatedly admonished to stand up.
"Oh, so I get to to do that again? Help you sit up?" the driver asks the girl as she pulls her up again by the sweater and throws her into a seat, then back into the aisle.
"You want to crawl, you can crawl," Klopson says to the girl, as she continues to cry from the ground.
"We’ll be right there," she tells the paraeducator before she closes the door to the bus.
"Ok, you done?" Klopson asks as she stands over the girl. Pulling on the girl’s sweater to lift her, the piece of clothing comes off, and the driver pulls the girl up by her arms, as she is heard screaming, "No."
"Nah nah nah nah nah nah nah," Klopson says to the girl in a sing-song voice again. "You done? Nah nah nah nah nah." Klopson begins to struggle to put the backpack on the girl.
"I don’t like you," the girl screams.
"I don’t like you," Klopson says.
"Please stop it, I don’t want to," the girl cries. "Stop it!"
"No, I’m not gonna stop," Klopson tells the girl.
"Stop it, please!" the girl continues to scream. "Please! Please, I don’t want to."
"I don’t care what you want," Klopson replies.
The 8-year-old is then pulled off the bus and handed off to a paraeducator while still crying.
"We’ll do better this afternoon, won’t we?" the driver tells the girl.
"We did this with another little guy that didn’t want to ride the bus," Klopson could be heard telling the paraeduator. "And they’re all looking at me, like, ‘Oh my God. What did she do?’"
"It’s ok, I didn’t hurt her, guys!" she yells to others outside the bus.
It is this last comment from Klopson and a similar comment from a parent on the Vacaville Police Department’s Facebook page, that Liberty said causes her to believe there are other students that have received the same treatment from the bus driver — who is no longer working for the school district. The girl from February’s incident sustained abrasions from the incident, according to police at the time. Liberty hopes others will come forward, as well.
"It’s a matter of public record," Liberty said to SFGATE. "This is a public school bus driver abusing a special needs 8-year-old: the public has a right to know. The parents who send their children on school buses in Vacaville Unified have a right to know.
"But more importantly, we believe there are other victims here," Liberty added. "We hope the video will encourage other victims or their parents to come forward."
The video was first aired by KGO-TV last week, and a board member with the Autism Society interviewed by the station said by the video that in his opinion the driver "has no clue" about dealing with a child in this situation.
"It’s absolutely horrifying," Stephen Brotzman told KGO. "This woman has no business driving a special needs bus."
The family plans to file a civil lawsuit on behalf of their daughter, Liberty says. Klopson was arrested on suspicion of felony child abuse in February when the incident first occurred and released on bail. Klopson pleaded "not guilty" to the charges.
It’s unclear whether there has been previous complaints against Klopson during her time as a driver. In a statement given to SFGATE, the Vacaville Unified School District stated that "the bus driver received hundreds of hours of professional development beyond required certifications and trainings during her employment."
"These trainings included a wide variety of topics including but not limited to driver safety and special education issues. We will continue to provide trainings, professional development and support for all of our employees serving students," the school district said in its statement. "Please know that we take this matter very seriously and will continue to be forthcoming and collaborative with our families."
Liberty, in turn, told SFGATE she has seen no evidence of this training.
"That’s important information, but it’s really not relevant to the district’s liability," Liberty said. "The district is fully responsible for the acts of that bus driver. Plain and simple."
Following the incident on the bus, Liberty said that the 8-year-old was taken to class and only allowed to see the nurse after complaining of physical pain and continuing to be upset. The parents were informed about what happened after their daughter went home on another school bus, and were shown the video.
"The troubling part … is that she was placed back on the bus that afternoon and the parents were not called until after she was placed back on the bus in the afternoon," Liberty said.
It’s unclear whether Klopson was the driver in the afternoon. The school district in its statement to SFGATE, however, contends with parts of Liberty’s assertions. The district stated that the young girl was immediately taken to the principal’s office after being taken off the bus, Klopson removed from further routes, with Child Protection Services and Vacaville Police Department contacted that same day.
The district further stated that once the police department’s investigation was concluded the following week, the parents were then presented with the video. Other families with students that ride the school district’s buses were notified, and a public meeting was held by the school district to address any concerns from parents.
Since the incident, Liberty says the girl has not dealt well with the incident, and is attending counseling.
"The victim is in psychiatric counseling which is a very difficult process given her autism diagnosis and her age," Liberty said. "The way that processes trauma is completely different from a child without an intellectual disability, but when you combine age and her autism, we’re talking about years to recovery."
SFGATE reached out to Klopson’s attorney for comment and will update this story as necessary.