HAINES CITY (FOX 13) - A Polk County bus driver is accused of making inappropriate comments to a student about his mother and her same-sex partner. Tuesday night, the School Board weighed in for the first time publicly.
Nathaly Encarnacion claims that, on February 8, her son, a second grader at Alta Vista Elementary, mentioned to his bus driver that he had two mothers. That's when he said the driver, Violeta Jacobo, told him that he, Encarnacion and her partner would go to hell because of the same-sex relationship. The boy also came home with a business card, directing them to a Jehovah's Witnesses website.
Initially, Jacobo was counseled but kept on the road. Monday, she was put on administrative leave with pay. Encarnacion came to Tuesday night's meeting urging the board to take disciplinary action.
"We are extremely devastated with what's happened," Encarnacion said. "She went into religion with him and told him why he wouldn't be going into heaven because of my relationship with my partner. I just feel like this kind of thing can't be happening in our schools. My son deserves a loving and welcoming and caring environment."
She wasn't the only speaker. After hearing the story, Dr. Erin Rothrock, who's in a same-sex marriage and has kids in the district, started a petition to have disciplinary action taken against the driver. As of Tuesday night, it had more than 300 signatures.
"We would have been devastated," Rothrock said. "It was an attack on that family and because of that, it was an attack on the entire LGBT community."
Several board members apologized and offered their support.
"I'm sorry that this thing has happened," said Board Member Billy Townsend. You are valued, your children are valued, your relationships are valued, at least by me."
"I'd like to offer a motion of support for the LGBT community now if anybody wants to second it," Townsend said.
However, there were no "seconds."
"We value every child. We really do," said Board Chair Kay Fields. "We want the best for every child. Unfortunately, discrimination occurs. It shouldn't. It shouldn't matter what color we are, what ethnicity we are, what gender we are, how we live our lives, it shouldn't matter. Unfortunately, it's the world in which we live."
That struck a chord with Polk Pride board member Kerri McCoy who was sitting in the room.
"The person who is supposed to be the head of the board, all she can say is, discrimination happens? That's all you can say is discrimination happens?" McCoy called out.
After the meeting, McCoy, who is also the President if PFLAG Polk County said, "I put myself in their position thinking what if that was my child? It's hurtful."
Meanwhile, Encarnacion was brought to tears.
"It's sad, it's devastating, it's even infuriating to see how some things work, even in a school district," Encarnacion said. "My son is a human being and he is innocent to everything. This is just unfair."
Board member Lori Cunningham asked for patience so they can fully investigate the allegations before making judgment.
"I understand it's been a difficult road with your child," Cunningham said. "I am sorry for what occurred. I am apologizing. We have to investigate it. You would want the same thing if something was alleged against one of us."
"Just hug that baby boy and hopefully, he will be okay because he's got two great parents that love him and treat him right and he's going to be able to get over this," Cunningham said.
Jacobo did not attend the meeting, nor did anyone speak in support of her. Encarnacion doesn't want to see Jacobo fired, but perhaps moved to a position that doesn't involve kids.
The board did not say when they expect to reach a decision.