Parents demand board action after bus driver's remarks

A bus driver's comments to a 7-year-old have started a controversy.

Right now, a Polk County school bus driver is under investigation. One family says it's too little too late. They say the driver, Violeta Jacobo, preached to a 7-year-old boy on the bus that he and his two moms are going to Hell.

It set off a firestorm at Tuesday night’s Polk County school board meeting in Bartow.

Mother Nathaly Encarnacion says it took turning to the Department of Children and Families (DCF) and the media to get the district to launch an investigation, putting the bus driver on paid leave. Parents believe the district is turning a turning a blind eye to discrimination.

“I'm just really upset about all of this,” said Encarnacion. She says she knew at Tuesday night’s meeting that school board members couldn't avoid her anymore. They listened to the heartbreak she says her son, Joseph, endured from the words of his trusted bus driver.

The mother claims the driver gave him a Jehovah's Witness business card and told him the suffering he'd endure in Hell for supporting his same-sex parents.

“She went into religion with him and told him why he wouldn't be going to Heaven, because of my relationship with my partner,” said Encarnacion.

Encarnacion says the district dismissed allegations of discrimination last month, only to reopen the case this week when pressed by the media.

“I would like to see the district cares about my family. I would like to see they're taking action and making sure they're not supporting that kind of behavior, so it doesn't happen to anybody else,” Encarnacion said.

She and other supporters hoped to see more backing from the board.

“The bus driver should have some disciplinary action for her actions.  I would like the school board to make a statement of support for the LGBT community,” said mother Erin Rothrock. She and her wife are raising two kids in the Polk County School District.

“I'd like to offer a motion of support for the LGBT community now,” said District 1 school board member Billy Townsend. His motion was met with silence when he called for a second.

“Wow,” the crowd responded.

“We want the best for every child. Unfortunately, discrimination occurs. It shouldn't,” said District 5 school board chair Kay Fields.

“My heart is racing, and I just couldn't hold it in anymore. I tried,” said Polk Pride board member and Polk County PFLAG president Kerri McCoy. She blurted out in the meeting, “As a full board you cannot apologize? You just want to say discrimination happens?”

“Yes, I am sorry, but give us the opportunity now, since we've been made aware, and it is being investigated.  Let's go through that,” said District 2 board member Lori Cunningham.

Joseph's mom says he's had nightmares and needs counseling. She won't rest, she says, until the district makes this right.

“His moms continue to fight for him and love him as usual,” said Encarnacion.

In a letter from the district, the driver was reminded of its ethical conduct standards to “make reasonable effort to protect the student from conditions harmful to learning and/or to the student’s mental and/or physical health and/or safety” and “not intentionally expose a student to unnecessary embarrassment or disparagement.”

The district says the Human Resources internal investigation could be wrapped up as early as the end of the week. Any discipline will be in the hands of the school board.

10News called the driver several times for her side of the story without a response.

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