Mother angry at use of ‘screaming bucket’ for her 7-year-old autistic son
By Jeff Lampe
TOULON – The first time Barbara Keske heard about the “screaming bucket” was in a passing remark at Casey’s from a student who rode the bus each day with her 7-year-old autistic son.
Keske was stunned to learn that a 5-gallon bucket had been placed over the head of her first-grade son, Steven, apparently by a bus aide, in an effort to control his behavior during the shuttle bus ride from Stark County High School to the elementary school in Wyoming.
Keske was so stunned that she had to confirm the incident before doing anything else. But after receiving confirmation from another parent that a bucket had been used, apparently more than once, Keske’s anger built.
Keske said she went to the school seeking answers and, she claims, only after she took her story to social media did the school administration act.
The incident has resulted in the suspension of a bus driver and bus aide, according to a press release from Stark County 100 School Superintendent Nick Sutton, “pending action by the Board of Education to terminate their employment.”
The action resulted, according to the press release, from confirmation of reports that the two employees had, “placed a five-gallon pail over a student’s head in an inappropriate attempt to address a behavior concern.”
The release did not provide the names of the suspended employees and Sutton would not comment further. The Prairie News has learned the employees are part-time bus driver Al Curry and bus aide Cathy Webster, both of Toulon. Curry, 72, is a retired biology teacher from Stark County 100 School District and current chair of the Stark County Board of Supervisors.
Curry said he has been advised not to comment. Webster also said she had no comment.
Keske is much more forthcoming in her views, and says suspension and even termination is not a strong enough response.
“Those two should be put in a jail cell,” she said, referring to Curry and Webster. “Once they put that bucket on his head and assaulted him, they took his freedom away. They assaulted him. They should not have the freedom they took away from him.”
The Stark County 100 School District press release stated: “While the child was not seriously injured, the actions of these employees are clearly contrary to policies and standards of Stark County Schools.”
The Stark 100 school board is scheduled to hold its next meeting at 6:15 p.m. on Monday, June 17, at which time the board is expected to address the matter.
The City of Toulon police department is also investigating the situation.
The incident came to light near the end of the school year after Keske’s son was suspended from riding the school bus on May 23, following an incident that occurred on the bus May 22. Keske said she was told that her son, “punched the bus aide in the face.”
Her son admitted to hitting the aide and, according to Keske, would say only, “It was an accident, it was an accident.”
That surprised Keske, who said, “Steven has never punched a child and has never displayed aggressive behavior toward other children or other adults. I said, ‘Something is not adding up.’”
After that was when Keske learned from other children on the bus that her son hit the aide as she was attempting to place the bucket on his head to stop him from screaming. She said her son also had bruises and “ligature” marks that Keske alleged were made by the bucket.
Keske said Steven is “on the autistic spectrum” and has been diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), oppositional defiant disorder (ODD) and separation anxiety. And she admitted, he does make loud screaming noises.
“It’s a high-pitched scream. He does it when he’s over-stimulated or when feels stressed,” Keske said. “He doesn’t scream for five minutes straight or anything. It’s quick. It’s annoying, but it’s a burst.”
According to a press release from the Toulon Police Department, Keske filed a report with officer Ashley Karper on May 26. In the same release, Police Chief Gary Bent said an investigation is ongoing and a report will be made to Stark County State’s Attorney Jim Owens.
“This was not a one-time event,” Bent said. “That’s why we’re taking as long as we need to interview all the parties involved before we make our report.”
Bent said a focus of his investigation is whether there was criminal intent involved.
“At this time, I feel there was not criminal intent to do harm to the child,” Bent said. “That does not mean it is not criminal.”