SANDY — The father of a special needs child gave the Canyons School Board a sharp reproach Tuesday on its response after a bus driver was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing a girl he drove to school.
Scott Askew stood on behalf of nearly 20 concerned parents, grandparents, neighbors and other relatives of special needs children who rode John Martin Carrell's bus. The group left with no answers from board members, who merely implied an independent investigation might be ongoing.
Carrell, 61, of Draper, is charged with 23 counts of aggravated sexual abuse of a child, a first-degree felony. He is accused of abusing a young girl with special needs whom he drove to and from Altara Elementary School in Sandy since the beginning of the school year.
Askew expressed ongoing frustration as the board has remained tight-lipped alongside the school district's administration ever since the allegations became public.
"So far it appears the school board has decided to hunker down in favor of school district administration," Askew told to board during a public comment period. "It is not your job to protect employees of the Canyons School District, especially when those employees have put special needs students risk, failed to properly notify law enforcement and parents of those risks, and distorted the truth to the media."
Askew said he and other parents are calling on board members to launch an independent investigation into the abuse and the district's response, and they're asking for a change to district policy to require aides be assigned on all special needs busses.
His 13-year-old daughter, who is nonverbal, was a passenger on Caroll's bus, and his family has been tensely waiting for police to conclude their investigation.
Canyons School Board member Tracy Scott Cowdell told Askew he appreciated the reminder of the board's duties, but implied that more might be going on behind the scenes than parents are aware.
"Just because it isn't obvious that certain things might or might not be being done, doesn't mean it's not happening," Cowdell said. "Just because we haven't announced that there's been an independent investigation doesn't mean one hasn't been done."
Cowdell said legal procedures limit what the district and school board can say publicly about the investigation.
Another parent in the crowd, David Kingsbury, called out from his seat in frustration following Cowdell's remarks.
As far as we know, there's no independent investigation going on. They're not telling us anything. It's really concerning as a parent that they're not being more forthright with us.
–David Kingsbury, father of a Canyons School District student
"Why not vote tonight just to put an aide on each bus?" Kingsbury asked.
Sherril Taylor of the Canyons School Board responded, saying only that parents' input is being seriously considered.
Kingsbury said he and his wife are is considering moving their daughter, who will start seventh grade this fall, to another school. They have also considered requiring a personal aide for their daughter while she is in school.
"As far as we know, there's no independent investigation going on. They're not telling us anything," Kingsbury said as he left the meeting. "It's really concerning as a parent that they're not being more forthright with us."
Askew started an online petition Sunday and by Tuesday afternoon it had more than 500 signatures. She said there has not been a response from the school board or administrators.
"The board of education, they're our elected representatives," Askew said. "They should be representing the public. I hope (the petition) sends the message that we have national attention and support for this — that they really do need to listen."
The petition asked that the school district to:
"1. Hire an independent investigator to review the policies and actions of the district related to the charges of aggravated sexual abuse against bus driver John Carrell, and the lack of aides on buses where an IEP requires an aide.
"2. Require bus aides on all special needs routes in the Canyons District."
A district spokesperson declined to comment, saying it would be irresponsible to comment on the petition that the district hasn't seen. The spokesperson said in the past, the district is always willing to meet with parents on-on-one, but not collectively.
"To know that the district doesn't have a second adult on the bus, has cameras but doesn't review the cameras unless someone complains, well, who's going to complain?" Askew said. "These kids can't talk."
Contributing: Pat Reavy, Sandra Yi and Devon Dolan