GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — An 11-year-old has been charged after he allegedly attacked a 5-year-old on a Northview Public Schools bus.
Sgt. Eric Brunner with the Kent County Sheriff's Office said the 11-year-old attacked a 5-year-old on March 9, causing minor injuries.
The child's parents, Jermon Burrell and Timia Blanton, were shown a video of the incident. They say their son was invited to sit with a group of older kids who then attacked him, hitting his head against a metal window fixture and kicking him in the stomach repeatedly.
"He was just trying his hardest to fight them off, but they were just too strong," said Blanton.
Brunner said Wednesday the 11-year-old has been charged with five counts of assault and battery. Parents of both children have been informed of the charges.
Burrell preferred not to speak on camera Wednesday, but he told 13 ON YOUR SIDE he's glad something was done. Though, he still would like to know if the other older kids involved were suspended or expelled.
He says community support is helping his son get through this tough time.
Burrell and Blanton also say the bus driver did nothing to help their son while he was being attacked. The driver was placed on administrative leave after the incident. Brunner said the driver was not charged or a suspect in the investigation.
After a review, the school district said no disciplinary action against the bus driver was warranted.
A former bus driver for the district said the job can be challenging, and she faced similar incidents herself.
"The only way that I noticed it was that one of the kids was screaming out, 'Leave me alone, just leave me alone!'" Pam Kammermeier said. "And what do you do when you're on Plainfield [Avenue] on a school bus? You don't have a lot of options."
She said drivers can only see the students through their rearview mirror, and it's difficult to hear over the sound of more than 60 kids in the vehicle.
"You're driving the bus, you're watching several mirrors. You're watching for cars, you're watching for lights, you're watching for people trying to cross the streets," Kammermeier said. "And it's very difficult. Driving buses is really a challenge. That's one of the reasons it's hard to fill those positions."
Another former bus driver who has worked in West Michigan, Kellie Boers, said there are strict rules where they cannot intervene physically to stop a fight from happening.
"Making sure that all the children are safe from each other can be impossible," she said. "You cannot touch a child. So, if a child is misbehaving or if they're attacking another child, they have to go into that situation knowing what those rules are and that their job is on the line if they don't do it right."
The school district announced Wednesday that they'll make sure to seat young children at the front of the bus and older kids in the back, which is welcome news to a dad with two children in the district.
"It's definitely a good thing. And it sounds like they have kind of done that, but they haven't really followed up on it until this happened," Josh Janowiak said. "Hopefully, the follow up is taken, and the bus drivers are really strict on this, and that it will prevent things from happening like this again."
Superintendent Scott Korpak issued a statement after the fight, saying he was horrified by the incident and that the school is working with the student's family to ensure they have the support they need.
"At Northview Public Schools, the safety of our students is and always will be a primary concern. While we cannot share specific details, including information on those who were involved due to federal privacy laws governing student information, we can say that we continue to work alongside the Kent County Sheriff’s Office in its investigation on this matter. As we do whenever there is the need, our dedicated team of mental health professionals, and our community partners, are providing support to all involved. Specific to our Transportation Department, we recently completed a thorough review of our processes and protocols, which led to increasing measures to ensure that our youngest students remain seated at the front of the bus at all times," he wrote.
Prosecutor Chris Becker says based on the video his office saw and the investigative report, no other kids are expected to be charged and the suspect will likely receive probation instead of jail time, as the juvenile system is meant to rehabilitate kids rather than punishing them.
"Juvenile adjudications, even though they're not publicly out there, can be on the record we use if they become an adult, they can be scored for sentencing guidelines if they commit serious felony offenses when they get older," Becker said.
Joel Safir, with the law office representing the five-year-old boy's family, issued a statement Wednesday, saying:
"My law firm, Safir Law PLC, has been retained to represent Jermon Burrell on behalf of his five-year old son, who was assaulted by multiple eleven-year olds on a school bus. What happened was positively outrageous! Parents in this community need to feel safe allowing their children to ride on school buses. Children in this community need to feel safe going to school. The people entrusted with the safety of our children need to do a better job! My firm will be pursuing a civil action against the appropriate parties, and we will be seeking all remedies available under the law."
School officials are asking all parents to talk with their children about the importance of reporting mean or bullying behaviors.
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