REDLANDS, Calif. - Parents of several Redlands middle school students claim their children were frightened, pinched and pushed into their seats by a school bus driver and aide.
Ultimately, those parents said they thought it was some kind of mix-up, with the school district sending bus staff meant for special education students instead.
"If this is a normal bus driver for special education kids, is this how they treat special education kids?" said Erika Garcia, whose 11-year old daughter was on the bus when the alleged incident occurred. "I don't think that's right."
It happened on Wednesday to a group of students trying to get to E. M. Cope Middle School. Garcia said she first found out about what allegedly happened when her daughter sent her a pair of text messages that said, "Ummmm 'save me?'" and "Track me, I'm scared."
"I was like, are you serious?" Garcia said.
She said her daughter later described the incident and that she mentioned having a feeling something bad would happen.
"They were acting fishy," Garcia said. "They wouldn't let them off the bus. They told them to throw their backpacks on the floor, no cell phones, nothing for them to record and (the aide) was putting their seatbelts on for them, which they're not used to. In a regular bus they don't do that."
Amber Garcia, who was on the bus, said the children were scared.
"We were all smooshed into one seat, it was like three per seat. I thought that they were going to take us to another location, because they skipped all the other stops - they skipped three other stops," she said.
Amber Garcia said they actually arrived at school sooner than usual, but that didn't stop parents from questioning what happened and why.
"Why were these kids picked up on a special education bus? Why were they treated as if they're special education when they're not?" said Blanca Cuellar, whose child didn't ride the bus on Wednesday. "These are kids, who are capable of being talked to and taken care of themselves, and they were forced to be sat down, pinched, pushed."
A school district official released a statement on behalf of the entity.
"The well-being and safety of our students is a priority of the Redlands Unified School District. We are currently investigating the allegations and will take appropriate action as necessary," the statement said.
The district didn't immediately respond to our request for further comment.
Erika Garcia said the district gave her a reason for why the normal bus didn't show up.
"Initially I heard, I think from the principal, that her original bus driver was out on a family emergency," she said.
According to Garcia, the district told her there would be a different substitute bus driver scheduled to pick up the students the next day.