MUIR, Mich. (WOOD) — A former Ionia Public Schools special education bus aide has admitted to hitting a 9-year-old boy with autism.
Daryl Graham, 69, pleaded guilty on April 18 to a charge of assault and battery. The incident happened March 22 outside Twin Rivers Elementary in Muir where the boy attends special education classes.
His mother says her son had a meltdown when he didn’t want to leave the playground and kicked Graham.
“The bus aide had seat belted my son in and then smacked him upside the head so hard that the teacher was standing outside of the bus heard it,” said the mother, who didn’t want to be identified to protect her son’s identity.
The woman and Ionia Public Schools reported the incident to police.
Superintendent Ron Wilson told 24 Hour News 8 it launched an internal investigation and placed Graham on administrative leave. He later resigned in April.
There are conflicting reports of the severity of the blow. Wilson says it was a tap on the head.
“I said what happened, he put his arms up over his ears like sheltering yourself from a hard punch or hit,” his mother told 24 Hour News 8. “He loves the bus ride, loves it. Now when you even mention the word bus, he has a meltdown. He instantly puts arms up over his ears. That’s not a light tap.”
Her son doesn’t speak so she says he didn’t have a voice to speak up for himself.
“What do you want to say to this man? How? Why? Why hit an innocent child who doesn’t know better,” she said.
When 24 Hour News 8 went to Graham’s house in Ionia Thursday afternoon for an interview, no one answered the door.
Wilson said Graham had worked for the district for several years, passed a background check and never had any complaints. He says employees are only allowed to contact students when they’re harming themselves or others.
The superintendent also said it can be tough working with kids who have special needs, but it doesn’t excuse Graham’s behavior.
His mother certainly feels the same way.
“I feel like I cheated my son. I feel like I couldn’t protect him,” she said.
The district says some buses have cameras, but the one where the incident occurred did not have a camera. The district is considering equipping all buses with cameras.