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Wednesday, September 30, 1998

Security camera on school bus captures 'out-of-control' boys groping girls

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) - Juvenile Services officials have asked the district attorney to review the cases of four middle school students who have been suspended for an after-school ruckus on a school bus.

A school bus security camera recorded several boys from a Fort Worth middle school groping girls and engaging in simulated sex with them earlier this month.

Seven students ages 12 to 15 from Forest Oak Middle School were identified in the videotape as being disruptive. School officials have suspended them.

Authorities said four of the boys are being investigated for possible indecency to a child.

"We are attempting to locate all the parents and set up a meeting, and we're going to ask for the district attorney's office to review the case," said Jerry Wood, assistant director for juvenile services.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported Tuesday that the video shows the group throwing punches and ricocheting around the bus. In more disturbing scenes, boys groped girls' breasts, held the girls down and simulated sex acts.

The video also shows one boy being struck by a rock and appearing to be in pain as other children try to avoid the melee by lying face down in the aisle and seats.

"These kids are out of control," police Sgt. Jeff Valmores said as he reviewed the video. "One of these little girls says every day this goes on. Look. Look at them pick that girl up and throw her."

The bus driver, Cynthia Fowler, complained only after some of the children hurled rocks and football-size chunks of dirt and grass into the vehicle after leaving at a bus stop, Valmores said.

Ms. Fowler, a driver with the school district since late 1996, has been suspended with pay pending an investigation into the Sept. 15 incident.

School superintendent Thomas Tocco said the school will take action against her, but declined to offer specifics.

"I'm very concerned about what transpired on that bus," Tocco said. "If it is as it was portrayed to me, it is exceedingly serious, and not common, and it goes well beyond horseplay that occurs on a regular basis."

Workers with the school district's transportation division watched the videotape after Ms. Fowler's complaint and were astonished by what they saw, Valmores said.

The video begins with the morning of Sept. 15. Children board the bus for the usual ride to school. The problems begin when the students board the bus to go home.

Initially, some students playfully slap one another, walk up and down the aisle as the bus moves, walk atop the seats, sit on one another and laugh.

Then, three boys approach another boy and begin punching him as he cowers in his seat. Another boy is also punched. Within minutes, the bus is in chaos, and the sexual behavior begins.

The video depicts several incidents of students grabbing girls and making pelvic thrusts, the police report states.

Valmores said that when the boys were confronted, they denied doing anything. When they and their parents were shown the video, they said nothing, he said.

The school district has placed video cameras on all 377 school buses, transportation director Sharon Spears said. The videotapes are rewound every five days and are reviewed only if the driver or someone else reports a problem on the bus, Ms. Spears said.

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