Polk County school bus attendant accused of abusing children, adults with disabilities

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Surveillance video from a Polk County school bus shows an attendant using rubber bands and a cutting tool to attack three children and three adults with disabilities, according to investigators.

Detectives launched an investigation after a child with special needs, who rides the bus to Doris A. Sanders Learning Center, told school staff that the bus attendant, 43-year old Juanita Tappin, had hit

After reviewing the video, deputies arrested Tappin, of Lakeland, Thursday.

According to a court filing, a nurse at the school documented two red welts on the child’s face.

Another little girl’s parents, Marc and Laura Serio watched intently as a judge set bond for Tappin at $6,000 Friday morning. Their daughter, Emily is one of six alleged victims of Tappin.

“Just looking at her made my blood boil,” Marc told FOX 13. “We just want her prosecuted to the fullest extent.”

Investigators say Tappin, while on the bus, punched students, hit them with a plastic seatbelt cutter tool, and snapped them on their faces a necks with a rubber band.

Detectives say Emily was tied down and couldn’t get away when Tappin hit her. Since Emily can’t talk, she couldn’t tell anyone what was going on.

“I can’t even imagine what she is going through mentally right now,” said Laura.

Detectives are not releasing the bus surveillance video. In a written statement, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd called Tappin’s actions “reprehensible.”

“The innocent victims can be seen cowering in fear. She should never have access to children again,” Judd said.

Detectives said Tappin told them she was acting in a “playful manner” and denied hitting anyone.  Detectives added none of the behavior could be described as disciplinary.

According to Polk County Public Schools, Juanita Tappin was placed on paid administrative leave. She was hired in January 2014 and had no prior disciplinary action in her personnel file. 

"We count on our transportation staff to be courteous, professional and caring,” said Polk County Public Schools Superintendent Jacqueline Byrd. “Our students deserve peaceful rides free of aggravation and unkindness. The unacceptable allegations against this bus attendant are very troubling. If true, I will recommend that this employee be fired. We are conducting an internal investigation, and the employee has been placed on administrative leave.”