MCPS School Bus Driver Charged With Rape, Abuse of Special Education Student Placed on Leave

Driver known as ‘Mr. Steve’ has driven routes for special education students throughout the county since 2006

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Etienne K. Kabongo

Via Montgomery County Police

A Montgomery County Public Schools bus driver is on unpaid leave after he was charged with the second-degree rape and sexual abuse of a minor student in a district special education program.

Bus operator Etienne K. Kabongo, 62, of the 7800 block of Mineral Springs Drive in Gaithersburg was arrested Sunday and charged with second-degree rape, third-degree sexual offense and the sexual abuse of a minor.

Montgomery County police and Montgomery County Public Schools announced the arrest Monday afternoon. Kabongo was held without bail following a bail review hearing in Rockville District Court on Monday afternoon.

Police said the abuse that Kabongo, who is known by students as “Mr. Steve,” is charged with took place on a county school bus last week.

An initial investigation revealed the abuse occurred while an MCPS school bus transporting students receiving special education services was stopped in the area of Yates Road in Silver Spring at 12:20 p.m. July 31. While an attendant left the bus to help drop off another student, Kabongo sexually assaulted the 12-year-old female victim, police said.

Kabongo committed the assault with his hand, according to charging documents.

Maryland’s second-degree rape statute says that a person may not engage in vaginal intercourse or a sexual act with another person if the victim is “a substantially cognitively impaired individual … and the person performing the act knows or should know that the victim is a substantially cognitively impaired individual.”

A school bus camera captured video of the assault, police and school officials confirmed.

The victim was interviewed by a Montgomery County social worker and said her bus driver touched her inappropriately, it hurt and that she cried. The victim also drew a picture of the assault, with tears coming from her eyes, according to charging documents.

A school bus camera captured video of the assault, police and school officials confirmed.

Special Victims Investigations Detectives are concerned that there are other victims, according to a police press release.

MCPS Superintendent Jack Smith wrote a letter to parents posted on the school system’s website Monday.

“Words cannot convey my anger, disgust and disappointment in the alleged behavior of Mr. Kabongo. Abusing a position of trust and authority to take advantage of the most vulnerable among us is despicable,” Smith wrote. “This behavior is a violation of our values and policies, as well as the law, and it will not be tolerated.”

The letter said that Kabongo was “immediately placed on leave” once MCPS learned of the allegations and he “will not be returning to our buses or schools.” MCPS said Kabongo was placed on unpaid leave while officials followed district protocol, which does not allow for immediate firing.

Kabongo has worked since 2006 as a bus operator within MCPS, primarily driving for students receiving special needs education.

The school system released a partial list of schools included in Kabongo’s bus routes since 2009.

Smith’s letter said MCPS immediately contacted the Montgomery County Department of Police after learning of the allegations. The school system did not publicly share details of the allegations until Monday pursuant to a memorandum of understanding with law enforcement to avoid interfering with law enforcement’s ability to prosecute its case.

MCPS coordinated with Tree House Child Advocacy Center, a local nonprofit, to ensure counseling support and resources are available for families that seek it.

MCPS spokesman Derek Turner said the school system started investigating after receiving a complaint from a parent. The parent’s concerns were corroborated by the video evidence, Turner said.

About 1,056 of the school system’s buses are outfitted with cameras, Turner said. There is a goal to make sure all buses have cameras in the future, Turner said.

The County Council issued a joint statement Monday afternoon about Kabongo’s arrest.

“Montgomery County condemns all forms of sexual abuse and harassment. The safety and security of students in Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS) is our top and most important priority. Our hearts ache for the student, who endured this horrific act of sexual violence, and her family,” the statement read.

The council’s Education Committee met with Smith in April for a briefing on the school system’s child abuse and neglect policies.

“While Montgomery County’s Board of Education is ultimately responsible for establishing and implementing these policies, we will continue to work together to provide the funding needed for training to prevent and spot sexual abuse and harassment and for the security equipment and personnel necessary to protect our students, especially those who cannot speak for themselves,” the council’s statement concluded.

Anyone who is concerned that a child has been victimized by Kabongo is asked to call detectives at 240-773-5400.

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