Top 10 Local News Stories of 2017: No. 7 — St. Vrain to Pay $4M to Autistic Student Abused on Bus
Top 10 local news stories of 2017
Through Dec. 31, the Times-Call will count down the top stories of the year, as selected by the newspaper’s editors.
10. Boulder County wowed by total solar eclipse
9. Tanner Flores convicted of first-degree murder in death on Ashley Doolittle
8 . Email/civility squabble among Longmont council
7. St. Vrain to pay $4M to autistic student abused on bus
Longmont’s Kamala and Vhim Rai are hopeful that the suffering of their autistic son at the hands of a former St. Vrain Valley School District bus aide will increase awareness that not all caretakers have good intentions.
The settlement they reached with the St. Vrain Valley School District also will mean changes to the district’s hiring and training practices.
Firestone’s Monica Burke was convicted in July of kicking, hitting and spraying disinfectant into the face of their son , Shiva Rai, who was 20 at the time and is severely autistic and nonverbal.
Burke’s abuse was captured over seven days by a surveillance video on the St. Vrain Valley bus that transported at least three other autistic students to specialized schools in Denver.
A teacher at one of the schools reported in August 2016 that he witnessed potentially abusive behavior on the bus, which prosecutors and the family believe might have been happening for months.
Burke was sentenced to 20 months in the Boulder County Jail , and St. Vrain Valley agreed to pay nearly $4 million as compensation in a settlement with the Rai family.
As part of the settlement, the school district reached an agreement with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, promising to make changes to their hiring and training practices for employees who work with students with disabilities.
The Rai family filed a complaint in February with the Office for Civil Rights alleging that their son had been discriminated against because of his race, national origin and autism. They also alleged that the school district failed to respond appropriately.
According to civil attorneys, the school district agreed to settle prior to the completion of a federal investigation into the allegations.
In November, a Boulder County jury found former St. Vrain Valley bus driver William “Bill” Hall guilty of failing to report Burke for spraying Shiva Rai with disinfectant and sentenced to 60 days in jail.
Along with changes in St. Vrain Valley, the case prompted parents of children with special needs in the neighboring Boulder Valley School District to petition the school board to add cameras on its buses as an added layer of protection.
The school board generally was supportive and plans to consider adding cameras during upcoming budget discussions.
Cost estimates for cameras were about $130,000 for Boulder Valley’s 115 buses for special education students and about $300,000 for the entire fleet of 261 buses. Both the district’s transportation director and the bus drivers support cameras on buses.
Amy Bounds: 303-473-1341, email@example.com or twitter.com/boundsa