·  Legal News, Analysis, & Commentary

Lawsuits & Litigation

Federal Judge Refuses to Dismiss Ann Arbor Bus Assault Lawsuit

— May 15, 2024

The family of a 7-year-old boy who was assaulted by a bus aide will continue to litigate claims that Ann Arbor Public Schools tried to withhold information about the incident from the child’s mother.

A federal judge has refused a Michigan city’s request to dismiss a lawsuit filed in connection with the assault of an autistic boy on an Ann Arbor Public Schools bus.

According to The Detroit Free Press, the lawsuit—filed by the parents of the boy—claims that Ann Arbor education officials made a deliberate attempt to cover up the assault, which was allegedly committed by a district transportation aide.

Since the complaint was first filed in 2021, Ann Arbor Public Schools has repeatedly sought to have the claim dismissed. However, earlier this week, U.S. District Judge George Caram Steeh found that there is sufficient evidence for the case to proceed to trial on charges of disability discrimination. In his ruling, Steeh cited the plaintiffs’ assertion that the assault was “motivated by animus to students with disabilities.”

The lawsuit, adds The Detroit Free Press, was filed on behalf of the boy’s mother, Jaime Nelson.

In court documents, Nelson claims that a bus aide pinned down, struck, and restrained her 7-year-old son in a 2020 incident.

Attorneys for Nelson and her son say that the school district, despite knowing that the incident had been captured on film, delayed taking substantive action against the aide. Instead of investigating, disciplining the aide, or placing the 7-year-old on another bus, district officials told Nelson that her son should continue riding on the same route.

A gavel. Image via Wikimedia Commons via Flickr/user: Brian Turner. (CCA-BY-2.0).

“The school principal advising a parent that their autistic child should continue to ride the bus with an aide that presents a known danger is an affirmative act for purposes of surviving a motion to dismiss,” Steeh wrote, noting that the principal “potentially created or increased the risk of harm … if for no other reason than the [alleged victim] because agitated at the end of the day when he had tor ide the bus.”

The alleged perpetrator, Steeh said, also appears to have lacked “proper training in how to calm [the boy], so it was foreseeable that [the aide’s] physical and verbal responses would increase proportionately with [the boy’s] behavior.”

Nelson, who was initially notified that her son had been involved in an altercation on the bus, only learned of the assault after a teacher “broke ranks.”

“Nelson only learned of the physical abuse through a teacher who broke ranks to tell the truth,” the lawsuit alleges, observing that the boy’s mathematics teacher effectively confirmed that the district was trying shield its aide and—potentially—minimize its liability.

Megan Bonanni, an attorney for Nelson, pointed to an email sent by the teacher in January of 2021—a month after the assault.

“I am concerned that I am going to lose all credibility with mom when she finds out that I knew about these allegations and didn’t tell her,” the teacher wrote in an email to the principal. “I also don’t feel comfortable keeping this from mom.”

“That’s the smoking gun,” Bonnani told The Detroit Free Press.


Emails raise questions about actions taken by Durham, AAPS after school bus assault

Judge delivers blow to Ann Arbor schools in bus assault of autistic boy

Judge denies Ann Arbor schools’ motion to dismiss school bus assault lawsuit

Join the conversation!