ROCKVILLE, Md. — Two weeks after a veteran school bus driver in Montgomery County, Maryland, was arrested and charged with sexually assaulting a special education student aboard his bus, parents are raising questions about their children’s safety.
At a public meeting Wednesday night at school headquarters, parents of special education students asked if school bus cameras could be made to provide images monitored in real-time. Parents also asked that all school bus drivers’ names be made available.
The assault happened on July 31 aboard a bus transporting special education students. Montgomery County police said driver Etienne Kabongo, 62, sexually assaulted a 12-year-old girl.
Police said the camera aboard the bus recorded video of the assault. Kabongo is being held without bond, and police are concerned there may be other victims.
Kabongo has been a driver for the school system since 2006.
“There are still a lot of questions that are unanswered,” said Jessica Reynolds, of Rockville, in an interview following the community meeting. Her child was a passenger on Kabongo’s bus, and she asked school officials when all surveillance video would be reviewed by investigators to learn of any other victims.
“My children have not even entered kindergarten yet, and there’s broken trust. I live in this community for one main reason — the school system,” Reynolds said.
Montgomery County school officials offered parents assurances that school bus drivers and all school personnel undergo multiple background checks, including fingerprinting. But, Kabongo had no criminal history.
“This is incredibly egregious and just really deplorable. I don’t know what other words to use except to say how all disgusted we are by what happened here,” said Andrew Zuckerman, chief operating officer of Montgomery County Public Schools.
Not all school buses are equipped with interior surveillance cameras, but Zuckerman told parents all would be by the end of the school year. Buses for special education students will be given priority, according to Zuckerman.
Not all parents were pleased with the school system’s assurances.
“I didn’t hear actual concrete steps that Montgomery County Public Schools is going to take to fix this problem,” said Lyda Astrove, of Rockville, whose son rode on a school bus route in 2011 that was covered by Kabongo.
Astrove told school officials they must do a better job of notifying parents of children who have aged out of the school system but once may have rode aboard Kabongo’s bus.
School officials insisted there would be ongoing efforts to improve communications with parents.