POLK COUNTY, Fla. (WFLA) – Marc and Laura Serio have experienced a range of emotions since a sheriff’s deputy showed up at their door on Wednesday.
“We’re sad that this could happen. We’re confused,” said Marc. “I don’t even know how to feel right now.”
The Department of Children and Families has investigated the Serios for possible abuse allegations after their 18-year old daughter Emily showed up at school with bruises on several occasions. When the deputy rang their door bell, they thought DCF was there again.
“And we’re thinking, ‘not again, they’re gong to take our kids away from us,’” said Marc. “We haven’t done anything wrong.”
The deputy was actually there to inform the Serios that it was a bus attendant who had been slapping and punching children and disabled adults, and their daughter Emily was one of them.
The bus takes the special needs children and disabled adults to the Doris Sanders Learning Center in Lakeland.
A camera on the bus captured the alleged abuse. The Polk County Sheriff’s Office has not released that video.
Juanita Tappin, 43, of Lakeland, is now charged with three counts of child abuse and three counts of abuse of a disabled adult.
Deputies are holding her in the Polk County Jail without bond.
According to a release from the Polk County Sheriff’s Office, the investigation began after a special needs child reported to school staff that she had been hit by her bus attendant.
The nurse documented two red welts on the victim’s face.
Detectives interviewed the victim and reviewed the bus video, which showed Tappin striking the victim 11 separate times by popping her with a rubber band and hitting her on the face and neck.
In the video, detectives saw Tappin punch other victims, strike victims with a hard plastic seatbelt cutter tool and snap a rubber band on their faces and necks.
Tappin should make her first appearance before a judge Friday afternoon.
The Serios say their daughter is non-verbal, so she couldn’t tell them what was going on. They say she has just started walking more frequently and falls quite often. So they thought perhaps the bruising was the result of falling.
Now that they know where the bruises came from, they’re left to wonder why and how this could happen. Marc said you have to have a lot of patience when working with special needs children.
“You have to have endless patience to work with special needs,” said Serio. “And why would you even take a job like that if you don’t have that. The patience of a saint, honestly. “
According to Polk County Schools, Tappin is on paid administrative leave. She was hired on Jan. 27, 2014.
There is no past disciplinary action in her personnel file.