19 Investigates: do schools know who’s driving your kids to school?

19 Investigates: do schools know who’s driving your kids to school?

CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - 19 News Investigators have uncovered a disturbing trend that could be putting the safety of your children at risk on their bus ride to school.

A local school bus aide with a criminal record was arrested in February on sex charges, accused of touching little kids.

It led us to dig deep into the background of school transportation workers, and ask the question—do you know who's driving your children to school?

Tallmadge Police told 19 News school bus surveillance video led to the arrest of 31-year-old Howard Franklin Jr., months after complaints came in from parents.

The bus aide is accused of inappropriately touching five girls as young as six years old last September.

The charges stem from several incidents that allegedly occurred in Sept. 2019.

Police said the victims were all students and the alleged incidents happened on school bus.

Some of the victims were touched in their groin and buttocks area, outside of their clothing, according to police records.

Franklin Jr. was only on the job for two months. Tallmadge City Schools said they fired him as soon as the allegations came in.

19 Investigates found Franklin Jr. had a criminal record before he got the job. We also found at the time he was hired, there was an active warrant for his arrest.

So how did he even get hired in the first place?

Howard Franklin Jr. faces multiple sex charges.
Howard Franklin Jr. faces multiple sex charges. (Source: WOIO)

Tallmadge City Schools contracts with a company called Petermann Bus to transport students.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson told us it was Petermann's responsibility to conduct a background check on Franklin Jr. He said that the check did not reveal all of his prior criminal convictions.

19 Investigates decided to background check school bus drivers and aides on our own.

We requested employee lists from nine area school districts that outsource busing to private companies, including Petermann, First Student and Community Bus Services.

Nearly half of the school districts that responded told us they don’t have any records on the bus workers responsible for getting children to and from school.

We double checked and found that meant they had no record or information on the background check that was conducted, what it included and what it did not.

“To tell a parent that you don’t know who’s driving their kid, you don’t even know their name in some cases, and that you have no basic record on file to say that they’ve been cleared, is not doing due diligence and probably pushes up to the line of negligence,” said Ken Trump.

Trump, no relation to President Trump, is the president of National School Safety & Security Services.

He has more than 30 years of experience in the school safety field.

"You wouldn't put a teacher in the classroom and not know the teacher's name and make sure that they clear the background. The bus is no different,” Trump said.

Tallmadge, Lorain, Elyria and Willoughby-Eastlake told us they don't maintain records on their bus workers because they aren't school district employees -- they work for the private busing companies.

“They're responsible for the safety of children, and not knowing who's driving the bus and what their backgrounds are just as they would for any other employee raises the risks of safety threats to the kids and the school district's liability,” Trump said.

School districts told us to check in with their bus contractors when we asked for employee lists.

They rejected our requests, saying they're private companies and don't have to comply.

In an email, a rep for First Student wrote, "We are not a public institution and therefore are not subject to public records request."

A regional manager for Petermann said they “couldn't give us a list due to the privacy of their employees."

19 Investigates learned Petermann uses a third-party vendor, called HireRight to conduct background checks on potential employees.

The company's website says they check federal and county courts for criminal records, but there's no mention of municipal courts.

In Franklin's case, that's where his multiple theft convictions could have been discovered.

When we asked Petermann how Franklin was still able to get a job, a spokesperson told us "A complete background check was administered and at the time of his hire, the former monitor had no disqualifying events that would have prevented us from employing him."

“I know that he had a prior history and I think they gave him a second chance, because there wasn’t anything involving child endangerment. But obviously he didn’t deserve that chance,” said a mom in Tallmadge who did not wish to give her name.

Several parents and grandparents 19 News spoke with believe school districts should be transparent when working with private companies, for the safety of their children.

“That’s the problem with compartmentalizing a system like that. And that’s true with everything. If you just assume that you paid somebody to do a thorough job, most of the time they’re not going to. It would probably be better if the school actually did it,” said Chris Foreman, a dad with a child at Tallmadge City Schools.

“School districts may turn to contractors to save money, but that does not negate or wash away their responsibility to know who's riding on the bus with their children,” Trump said.

We wanted to know if Tallmadge is making any changes since Franklin Jr.'s arrest.

Superintendent Jeff Ferguson said moving forward, if drivers have any infractions, “they’re not for us.”

But to be fair, he said it depends on the charge.

He also says they're working with Petermann Bus to make sure something like this doesn't happen again.

19 Investigates also asked Community Bus Services and First Student for details on their background check policies, we're still waiting to hear back.

Franklin Jr.’s bond was set at $500,000.

He has not entered a plea in this case yet.

Here is a complete list of the schools 19 News contacted and their responses:

-Coventry Local Schools (Petermann Bus)

A list of bus drivers and aides was provided to 19 News. Drivers and aides are employed by the district, not Petermann Bus.

-Elyria City Schools (First Student)

A list was not provided. Bus drivers and aides are employees of First Student.

-Euclid City Schools (First Student)

Acknowledged the public records request. 19 News is waiting for a response.

-Willoughby-Eastlake City Schools (Petermann Bus)

A list was not provided. “Employee records lie with Petermann,” Superintendent Steve Thompson said.

-Tallmadge City Schools (Petermann)

A list was not provided. "We don’t maintain any files on their employees,” said treasurer Jeff Hostetler.

-Wickliffe City Schools (Community Bus Services)

No response.

-Lorain City Schools (First Student)

“The Lorain City School District does not maintain any records of First Student employees,” the school district said.

-Hudson City Schools (Petermann Bus)

“Since Petermann is an outside private organization and the drivers are not employed by the Hudson City School District, we are exercising caution in compiling and releasing this information,” the school district said.

-Nordonia Hills City Schools (Petermann Bus)

A list was provided to 19 News.

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