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April 01, 2009  |   Comments (0)   |   Post a comment

Keeping a close watch

by Thomas McMahon, Executive Editor


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School bus drivers are often called the “eyes and ears” of their communities. That was certainly true in the case of 13-year-old Alexis “Lexie” Glover. The efforts of a few observant and caring pupil transporters could have led authorities to save Lexie’s life.

Two separate school bus driver-attendant teams spotted signs that the Manassas, Va.-area girl was being abused by her adoptive mother.

As reported by The Washington Post, Lexie’s bus driver and attendant once noticed that the girl’s wrists had marks as if she had been tied up. Lexie told them that her mother had bound her and made her lie on the car floor during an out-of-state trip.

On another occasion, the bus staff noticed a large welt on Lexie’s head. She told them that her mother would — while videotaping — force her to hit herself. The bus staff notified Lexie’s school and the Prince William County Department of Social Services.

Later, when Lexie came to the bus in her underwear, the bus staff bundled her up and called their dispatcher, which led to a call to the police.

A driver-attendant team on a different bus twice spotted Lexie’s mother drive away from a daycare center with her daughter in the trunk. They notified their dispatcher and then gave written statements of what they had seen to police.

Despite these pupil transporters’ best efforts, for which they deserve commendation, police said that the mother denied the incidents and that Lexie kept quiet. Other alarming incidents were reported by neighbors.

On Jan. 9, Lexie’s body was found in a shallow creek. Her death was ruled a homicide, and her mother was later charged with the crime.

On the lookout
Although this case ended in tragedy, it shows another important facet of school bus personnel: They look after kids on and off their bus. It’s not just a matter of driving safely.

But how do pupil transporters know when to report a suspicion of abuse? In Lexie’s case, the signs were unmistakable, but it may not always be so clear.

On its Website, www.childabuse.org, the Tennyson Center for Children lists possible indicators of abuse, including unexplained bruises, rope burns, behavioral extremes and wariness of physical contact.

Many people are hesitant to report possible abuse, but “without aware adults, some children might never receive help,” the organization says. “Remember, you are reporting suspicion of child abuse. Even if you aren’t sure, it’s better to let authorities check it out. You might save a child’s life!”

Unfortunately, the authorities did not save Lexie. After her death, a state investigation began of the response of the county Department of Social Services. Virginia requires this type of review in any case of child abuse that results in death, but county officials in this case prompted the state to accelerate the process.

They can’t bring Lexie back, but hopefully they can shed some light on why the system failed and keep it from happening again. Vigilant school bus drivers and attendants can only do so much.


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