Pasco News

Pasco bus assistant, accused of slapping autistic student, resigns

♦ (NOTE: Due to its graphic nature, is not including sound heard in the video.)

— A bus assistant submitted his resignation today, nearly a week following his arrest on two counts of child abuse after he was accused of slapping an autistic student on a school bus.

In a letter to Pasco County Schools Superintendent Kurt S. Browning, 57-year-old James Lambert resigned from his position, effective June 3 — the last day of the school year.

The school district had suspended Lambert, who had worked for the district since 1998, and planned to start the process of terminating his employment, a district spokeswoman said Monday.

Lambert, of Hudson, was arrested Friday on two counts of child abuse and later released from the Land O’ Lakes Jail after posting $10,000 bond.

The incident, which happened June 3, the last day of school in Pasco, was captured on video by one of the three surveillance cameras on the bus.

On the ride home from Moon Lake Elementary, a 10-year-old boy with autism began to curse.

Lambert yelled at the boy, “If I come back there you’re gonna get it,” according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.

With other children aboard, the nearly four-minute video shows Lambert — who is 6 feet 1 and weighs 250 pounds — walking to the back of the bus and sitting across from the boy, who was restrained in a harness.

He slapped the boy across the face, causing him to yell and moan, the video shows.

After the boy then slapped Lambert on the arm, Lambert retaliated with another slap to the arm, the video shows.

Even after Lambert and the boy traded slaps, Lambert remained facing the agitated boy for nearly a minute, the video shows.

In the second part of the video, about 15 minutes later, Lambert again walks to the back of the bus after he hears loud cursing.

Lambert bends over to pick up a pair of shoes in the walkway before leaning over the boy’s seat, sitting down next to him, and — after the student tried to grab the shoes, Lambert began to walk away before turning around and slapping the boy. He then again verbally confronts the boy.

Lori Lamb, the boy’s mother, told News Channel 8 that the situation was “disgusting.”

“My trust is gone,” she said. “I don’t have any faith in the school.”

Lamb didn’t learn about what happened to her son right away because he did not tell her. Instead, another boy who was on the bus told his mother, who called Lamb to let her know, district spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said.

Lamb then called the district’s transportation department on Wednesday and transportation officials reviewed the video from the bus, Cobbe said. When they saw what happened, they notified Betsy Kuhn, the district’s employee relations director, who told them to contact the sheriff’s office, Cobbe said.

Lambert has been reprimanded at least three times in the past over inappropriate behavior or failure to follow protocol, though in none of the previous instances was he accused of striking a child.

In December 2012, students on a Gulf Highlands Elementary bus told an assistant principal that Lambert had used profanity and told them to “shut up,” according to district records. He denied using profanity, but admitted he told the children, “Be quiet, the lights are on so shut up,” the records said.

In September 2012, Lambert had been asked to keep an eye out for bullying on a Shady Hills Elementary bus, and to intervene if anything happened, but school officials became concerned he was not following through on those instructions, district records said.

A review of the bus attendance records also showed that Lambert had marked two students present every day, but those two students had never been on the bus, prompting his supervisor to tell him to “learn the students’ names and verify all children on your bus,” the records said.

At that point, Lambert was required to take a training course on student management, which he completed.

In February 2011, Lambert was accused of becoming agitated and grabbing a radio from a Northwest Elementary assistant principal who had boarded the bus to discuss with him his refusal to allow a student to use a therapeutic oral device on the bus, records said. He used the radio’s antenna to demonstrate his concern that the student could poke an eye out, but later told supervisors that he asked the assistant principal’s permission to see the radio and “did not intend to grab the radio out of her hand.”

The investigation into the latest incident with the autistic student comes coincidentally just as the school district’s transportation department is providing its employees training in working with special needs children, Cobbe said.

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