Updated October 8, 2020 - 7:09 pm
Parents of a Clark County School District student who was sexually assaulted by her bus driver in 2015 have filed a lawsuit that accuses the district of violating the constitutional rights of both their children.
The lawsuit, filed Oct. 2 in federal court on behalf of the parents and their two children, said that the district “showed reckless disregard for the safety of MJ, JJ and the children riding on (Michael) Banco’s bus.”
The former school bus driver initially faced 41 counts but pleaded guilty in 2018 to one count each of sexual assault with a minor under 16 and lewdness with a child under 14. Prosecutors said surveillance video showed Banco sexually assaulting children who were 3 and 4 years old.
“(Banco’s) imprisonment will do nothing to address the years of suffering and the life-long road to healing which these very young children must endure,” defense attorney Crystal Eller wrote in the 36-page complaint.
The document also names O’Roarke Elementary School Principal Kody Barto, the district Transportation Department and former Superintendent Pat Skorkowsky as defendants.
The school district declined to comment, citing the pending litigation.
Mental health needs
The plaintiffs in the case are seeking monetary damages for the violation of the children’s constitutional rights under the 14th Amendment, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act and the Education Amendments of 1972, alleging the district subjected the children to abuse under a federally funded program.
They are also seeking damages under Nevada law against lewdness with a child under 14, sexual assault against a child under 14, first degree kidnapping and negligence.
Since the sexual assault, the siblings have been diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to court records.
The parents, whom the Review-Journal is not identifying to protect their children, said Wednesday that they are taking the case to civil court for their children’s future mental health needs and their education and to enact systemic change in the district.
They said their daughter has nightmares about the school bus, has trouble trusting people and wonders why she’s different. Their son feels guilty for not protecting his little sister on the bus.
“She has days where she just shuts down,” her mother said. “This is something that she’s going to need to speak to somebody professionally for the rest of her life.”
The father added, “As parents, that hurts you. … We can be there for her, but we’re not therapists. We can’t give her the help that she needs.”
School district ‘failed’
The siblings were 3 and 5 when they rode the school bus to receive special education services at O’Roarke. Each had delays in speech skills and struggled to communicate with adults and peers.
In May 2015, one of Banco’s victims told a police officer that “the bus driver puts his pee pee in my mouth.” That child was on the same route as MJ and JJ, who would sit together toward the front of the bus, according to the complaint.
Surveillance video from May 12, May 13 and May 26 showed Banco moved JJ to the front of the bus and sexually abused his sister. At the time, JJ suffered delays in speech, the complaint said.
During these times, JJ “physically resisted being moved from sitting with his sister and was moved forcibly against his will,” the complaint said.
Throughout the days documented on the surveillance video, parents complained to the school and the bus transportation facility that Banco was late to drop off their children on his route, the complaint said.
On May 26, Banco did not finish abusing MJ until 30 minutes after she was supposed to arrive at home, Eller wrote in the filing.
“Yet no investigation ensued regarding the reason for the tardiness,” she wrote. “No one even bothered to review the video surveillance tapes to determine the cause of the delays despite complaints by several parents.”
The lawsuit also said that the district violated the children’s rights by not providing a bus transportation aide on the route despite having federal funding to do so.
“Had the district placed an aide on MJ’s and JJ’s bus, Banco would not have been able to sexually assault, falsely imprison, physically and emotionally abuse them,” Eller wrote.
The district also “failed to update their background check policies despite at least 13 students had been sexually abused by employees in one year,” the complaint said, and for not relieving Banco of his duties after he was held liable in civil court for a 1997 allegation of assault and battery on a child.
“They didn’t train him, they didn’t discipline him,” Eller said. “They just might as well have handed her to him on a silver platter.”