Elburn family sues school district, bus company for alleged mistreatment of autistic child

ELBURN, Ill. (WLS) -- An Elburn family is suing their school district and a bus company after they say their autistic child was threatened with physical harm by his aides while riding to and from school. And they say you can hear it it all on tape.

The family spoke to ABC 7's Mark Rivera in an Eyewitness News Exclusive.

When Mitchal Padavana was 9 years old, his parents Paul and Amy put a listening device into his backpack. Mitchal was diagnosed with autism as an infant. His parents wanted to make sure his rides to and from school were safe. When they listened back to the tape, they couldn't believe what they heard.

"I kept saying you've got to hear this. You've got to hear this. You will not believe what's going on on the bus. This is just disgusting," said Paul Padavana, father.

The Padavanas are beside themselves.

"You put him into their van and say goodbye and realize that once that door closes what was going on. It just sickens you," said Amy Padavana, mother.

Mitchal has level two autism spectrum disorder. It's hard for him to communicate. Amy said she spent four years driving 100 miles round trip every day to get him to his specialized school, so she and her husband were relieved when Kaneland Unit School District 302 offered to bus Mitchal and provide an aide.

"It's so hard when you have a child that can't speak, you want to make sure that they're OK," Amy Padavana said.

The Padavanas are now suing Kaneland Unit School District 302 and Illinois Central School Bus. They said they were promised a bus with video recording equipment. Instead, they got a minivan. In a letter to the district and bus company from their lawyer, the Padavanas said after this transportation started, their son Mitchal became distressed.

"Paul and I were very nervous. Very nervous, so through discussion we had decided to purchase our own video recording device and we tucked that into our sons backpack," Amy Padavana said.

When they took it out of their son's backpack and listened back, they were shocked at what they heard.

AIDE: "He's breathing a little hard over here i'm going to have to chin check his a**. ... wonder why you back asleep snoring."
DRIVER: "He done caught one?"
AIDE: "Hmm, right on the chin."
DRIVER: "Don't leave no bruise whatever you do."
AIDE: "I know."
AIDE: "Right on the chin. Chinny chin. I'll be like, 'I think he just fell asleep, slid over, and hit it on the arm thing right here.'"

Amy Padavana said after that day, their son Mitchal, "came home from school, door closed behind us and he immediately went for my face. And I knew at that moment. There is something definitely going on."

As the family listened, they heard more. Conversations about sex. Loud music. Swearing. And:

DRIVER: "what the f***? What are you doing? Let him go. Look at your belly."
AIDE: "Ahh I can't take him serious."

"It just... your heart stops. It's disgusting," Amy Padavana said.

Doctor Rachel Follmer is an autism expert at Lurie Children's Hospital. She has never met the Padavanas, but explained that in her objective medical opinion, this is the opposite of how a child with special needs should be treated.

"It's extraordinarily distressing. They're not able to express what's happening to them, so for them this is a scary event where someone is threatening them," Follmer said.

Now, Mitchal is at a different school and uses a different bus company. But his parents are still in disbelief.

"Disbelief that someone could have that little compassion for a special needs child," Paul Padavana said.

"Had he not given us some sign, we would not have known what was going on. And who knows how far they would have taken it," Amy Padavana added.

Illinois Central Bus Company and Kaneland Unit School District 302 are not commenting on this story citing ongoing litigation. However, lawyers for Kaneland School District 302 did point us to the School District's Motion to Dismiss the case, which includes a claim that it was illegal for the Padavanas to record the driver and bus aide. Lawyers for the Padavanas strongly disagree. They say there was no reasonable expectation of privacy on a bus to school. A judge still has to rule on that motion.
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