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Alleged abuse of school kid on Littleton special needs bus uncovered

When Brittany Yarborough’s son’s right middle toe turned purple and swelled, she took him to Children’s Hospital Colorado for an X-ray. The toe was broken. She knew it happened during school time because as caregiver to her special needs 11-year-old, she didn’t see him kick a wall or stub his toe.

Littleton Public Schools case against student hit on bus
Injuries on a special needs child who rode on a Littleton Public Schools bus.

Because of the boy’s non-verbal autism, he could not tell her that he may have been a victim of assault by a person entrusted by the Littleton Public Schools to take care of him.

“Jess”, the mother of the child on a surveillance video speaks during a press conference about abuse of special needs student on a bus.

That was in early September.

Throughout the year, Yarborough was confounded by the injuries her son Hunter brought home. He had unexplained bruises, scratches, and one day she even found gum in his hair — injuries she called “minor.”

“Devin” speaks during a press conference about abuse of special needs student on a bus.

Though she questioned Littleton Public Schools officials in emails, Yarborough did not tie the mysterious injuries to Hunter’s daily bus ride to and from school because “he is a self-injurious child. We usually, unfortunately, make the assumption that he has done it to himself.”

Littleton Public Schools case against student hit on bus
Injuries on a special needs child who rode on a Littleton Public Schools bus.

Yarborough’s son has an 18-to-24-month-old’s cognitive level. He can walk on his own, but never eats by himself for fear he will choke on his food.

Three weeks ago, administrators from The Joshua School called Yarborough and asked her to look at two videos taken by a mother whose son rides the same bus as her son.

The footage was edited down from a longer video obtained by Englewood police.

In a news conference Tuesday, organized by Rathod Mohamedbhai LLC’s attorneys representing three families, the mother who recorded the video and asked only to be identified as Jessica said her family recently moved to Colorado from Illinois specifically because they heard that Colorado had exemplary services for special needs children, like her son.

Her 10-year-old, non-verbal autistic son is the single named victim in the case so far, although Englewood police investigators are still gathering evidence. He is also the one in most of the videos from the bus.

“How dare you fail my son in such an astonishing and preventable way,” she said.

Littleton Public Schools case against student hit on bus
Injuries on a special needs child who rode on a Littleton Public Schools bus.

‘Absolute heartbreak watching his face’

The footage unfolded like the worst movie.

The video time stamp is March 18, 2024 at 3:13 p.m. and the scene is a bus ride home two days before spring.

The surveillance footage showed two, one-minute views from a ceiling camera as Jessica’s 10-year-old son riding on a six-person bus, his eyes big and uncomprehending, endured a barrage of alleged abuse by an adult woman sitting beside him. The boy’s head lurched back and forth as the video showed her elbow his stomach, hit him, shove his body into the bus wall and appear to stomp on his feet.

The woman, Kiarra Jones, was the paraprofessional assigned to the special needs bus by Littleton Public Schools to keep children safe, according to an arrest affidavit obtained by The Denver Gazette. The boy was riding home from The Joshua School at 2303 E. Dartmouth Ave.

As Yarborough watched, her stomach knotted.

“I was in absolute heartbreak watching his face. He was so terrified,” she said.

The boy in the footage was not her son, but the broken toe and scratches on Yarborough’s own developmentally disabled child started making sense, as he rides the same bus, she said.

In a letter to parents, Littleton Public Schools Superintendent Todd Lambert said Jones was fired on March 19.

“Ms. Jones was hired by LPS in August of 2023 after satisfactory reference checks and after passing a thorough background check,” wrote Lambert in the April 5 letter.

Three videos of alleged abuse

According to Jones’ arrest record, Englewood police detectives are reviewing three separate days of “assault” on the same 10-year-old boy Yarborough saw in the video — Feb. 13, March 1 and March 18.

Kiarra Jones
Kiarra Jones, 29, faces allegations of assault on special needs children who were riding a Littleton School District bus.

The Englewood police arrest record from the Feb. 13 incident documented a 40-minute assault during which Jones, who is described as 5’8” and 235 pounds, hit the boy in the stomach several times, punched him in the legs and backhanded him in the mouth.

In what is perhaps the most violent description of that bus ride home, police said Jones looked at the bus driver and then “hit (redacted name) in the mouth with the closed fist of her right hand. The punch is so hard, (redacted name) head goes back and hits the seat.”

At times, the detective wrote that Jones held the child’s head down, one time for 17 seconds, appeared to tickle him, and rubbed his hair and his face.

The documents mentioned that the boy was crying and breathing heavily throughout the ordeal and did not “perform any actions to warrant the assault.”

The boy’s mother first reported her son’s injuries on Jan. 10, when she called the district’s transportation department and asked for officials to review bus footage.

Once LPS Transportation Director Marcy Phelps watched the bus ride video, she called the police, according to the arrest affidavit.

Jones, of Littleton, was arrested on April 4 on suspicion of two crimes against an at-risk person, one for assault and one for injury. She remains free on $5,000 bond until her next court date May 3 for a scheduled preliminary hearing, where prosecutors will present evidence to a judge.

She did not respond to calls from The Denver Gazette for comment.

Since the alleged assault happened in Englewood and not the city of Littleton, it’s an Englewood police case.

Parents suspect there is more footage, and police have told them that the district has not yet turned it all over to law enforcement.

The Joshua School is a facility school approved by the Colorado Department of Education that services 10 local school districts providing education for children with autism spectrum disorder and developmental disabilities, according to its website.

Kimberly DeHaven, president of Colorado State Pupil Transportation Association, said that bus aides are trained not to touch a special needs student “unless they’re harming themselves or harming others.”

She added that each school district has its own protocol in how it trains paraprofessionals.

“Based on these reports, obviously, it’s very easy to get away with this because the children don’t talk,” she said. “It should not be happening.”

The highest level of education required for school bus paraprofessionals by Littleton Public Schools is either a high school education or a high school equivalency diploma. The affidavit said that Jones was an Individual Education Plan Team, authorized as a caretaker.

Qusair Mohamedbhai, civil attorney for at least three sets of parents, said that detectives are “continuing to find more instances” but so far any other alleged abuse on the Littleton Public Schools special needs bus is unknown. It’s also unclear whether the bus driver knew of the alleged abuse.

“If Littleton Public Schools does not hold itself fully accountable, we will sue,” said attorney Edward C. Hopkins Jr. at the news conference.

Though she doesn’t have proof that her son was a victim of abuse, Yarborough suspects that he was because he came home with a long scratch down the middle of his back which he could not have reached. She’s just not sure, she said.

Still, she never suspected that the “sweet” bus aide who texted her almost daily to check in would be capable of the allegations of violence toward vulnerable kids.

“We trusted LPS to be monitoring this and they weren’t,” Yarborough said. “We trusted them to do their due diligence in hiring quality people and they didn’t.”

Correction: The original version of this story misattributed this quote to the wrong source. In fact, Brittany Yarborough said: “We trusted LPS to be monitoring this and they weren’t. We trusted them to do their due diligence in hiring quality people and they didn’t.” 

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