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Gaston County family alarmed after 5th grade daughter with special needs assaulted on school bus

Melisa and Tim Brown said the incident was recorded on a classmate's cell phone.

MOUNT HOLLY, N.C. — A Mount Holly couple is demanding Gaston County Schools change its bullying policy after they said cell phone video showed a student slapping and pulling the hair of their fifth-grade daughter, who has special needs, on a school bus.

Melisa and Tim Brown said the incident happened in September as their daughter, Lily, was coming home from school.

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"Lily needs her mommy. She’s been hurt'," Melisa Brown recalled Lily's classmates telling her as they got off the bus. "I actually climbed up onto the school bus, and I scooped her up, and I said, 'You know, it’s okay. I'm here. What happened?'"

Lily has an intellectual disability after being born premature, so Melisa Brown had to rely on the memory of Lily's classmates.

Melisa Brown said other students told her a classmate slapped and pulled Lily's hair.

She said Ida Rankin Elementary School administrators began investigating the incident.

"They were very concerned," Melisa Brown said. "They said, 'We're going to take this very seriously. We're going to make sure this gets handled'."

Melisa Brown said the school told her the bus' surveillance camera didn't record the incident, but she said she soon learned a student captured the incident on a cell phone.

"The parent that showed me the video said that they had taken the video to the school that very next day," Melisa Brown said. "The school was aware the day after the incident, and for two weeks, I was so unaware."

Gaston County Schools told WCNC Charlotte that administrators called police as soon as they learned about the video. 

"They should’ve made me aware of what happened to my daughter," Melisa Brown said. "I was terrified. I couldn't believe it was that bad, and the school said nothing."

Gaston County Schools confirmed the case is now in juvenile court. 

Holden Clark is a Gastonia-based attorney who has experience in juvenile and education cases. He isn't involved in this particular case.

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"The whole idea behind a juvenile court case is to be rehabilitative," Clark said. "It's to get services in place for kids who are having struggles, that are leading them into a situation where they're finding themselves charged with criminal actions."

Despite additional money and resources being placed into the juvenile justice system following the passing of the "Raise the Age" law, Clark said the courts are still catching up following pandemic-related delays.

Melisa Brown said her daughter’s case has already been postponed.

She and her husband want the county to be more forthcoming in how they punish students who bully classmates.

They also questioned whether the county is too dependent on technology, and less reliant on staff members, to keep students safe.

"[Lily's] not as trustful with her peers as she once was," Melisa Brown said. "I feel like she's lost a lot of that security."

Gaston County Schools told WCNC Charlotte that because of student privacy laws, they can’t get into many specifics about the case.

They said the school followed its disciplinary procedures.

Contact Brandon Golder at bgoldner@wcnc.com and follow him on FacebookTwitter and Instagram.