A couple of months after a school van driver was accused of sexual assaulting a girl with special needs, that victim's mother is speaking out exclusively to Channel 11.
Normally, WPXI does not show pictures or otherwise identify victims of sexual assault, but this victim's mother wanted her name and pictures used to help put a face on the fight to protect all children.
Hannah, 16, has a rare genetic disease, called cri du chat, which limits her development and her ability to speak.
"She enjoys conversation, even though a lot of her conversation we don't understand. It's kind of like Hannah language," said Patty Fowler, Hannah's mother.
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Hannah's condition leaves her unable to share when something is wrong, which is exactly what happened in December 2017. That's when Pittsburgh police arrested Hannah's school bus driver, Lavalle Tucker.
According to the criminal complaint against Tucker, a witness reported seeing him sexually assault Hannah near the Children's Institute in Squirrel Hill, where she attends school.
"If that person had not done what they did that day, my daughter would still be getting sexually assaulted on the bus," Fowler said.
There was no camera, monitoring equipment or aide on the bus. When 11 Investigates' Aaron Martin asked why, a spokesperson for Pittsburgh Public Schools said it's their priority to put cameras on buses that carry 36 or more students. Hannah's bus only carried two students.
"We've been practicing what she would do if something like that happened again," Fowler said. "She thinks she did something wrong, and that's difficult for me to watch my daughter apologize for something that was wrongfully done to her."
11 Investigates looked into policies for cameras and monitoring on buses at other area schools. Penn Hills and Norwin have at least one camera on all buses and vans that carry students. Butler and Canon-Mac have cameras on buses, but not in smaller school vans that often carry special needs students.
Those discrepancies are why Ken-Neeta Fowlkes, a mother in East Allegheny, fought for months to get an aide placed on her daughter's bus.
"She's non-verbal. She can't defend herself, she can't say no, she can't tell me if something happens," Fowlkes said.
One of the toughest stories I’ve reported on. Police say a 16-yr-old girl w/ special needs was sexually assaulted by her school bus driver Her mom speaks 1-on-1 about how she’s fighting to make sure this doesn’t happen to anyone else NEXT on #WPXIhttps://t.co/SN3gemVhsi— Aaron Martin (@WPXIAaronMartin) February 27, 2018
Fowlkes started an organization to help other special needs families fight for their children's rights.
"I feel like these children and these families have slipped through the cracks," Fowlkes said.
WPXI's stories about Hannah's case inspired State Senator Jim Brewster to do some research. He now plans to introduce legislation to protect all students.
"Whether they be special needs buses or the bigger school buses, whether they be for private schools or charter schools, we should have the same process in place," Brewster said.
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