TAMPA, Fla. - Veleria Fabiszak remembers telling Hillsborough County School Board members about the day her daughter, Chelsea, almost died.
"I'd just never seen anything like this before," she said.
In a recording of the Valentine's Day meeting earlier this year, Fabiszak stands at a podium during public comment and describes the state in which she found her daughter on February 3, 2011.
"Saturated to her socks and shoes in urine," she explained.
That afternoon, she had received a voicemail from an ESE aide at Gaither High School:
"Chelsea has had an accident," the staff member said.
Fabiszak raced to pick up Chelsea, who suffers from Rett Syndrome, a neurological disorder which causes seizures and hampers motor skills.
Once home, Fabiszak removed Chelsea's pants and was horrified by what she saw, Chelsea's leg twisted and swollen. She immediately called for an ambulance.
"He said, 'Without an x-ray, your daughter has a broken femur, and that is the thickest strongest bone in your body, and if it was him, he'd be screaming," Fabiszak said.
Chelsea's grandmother, Pat Pittman, remembers what doctors later told them.
"The way the bones broke, they were afraid it was going to hit an artery and she'd bleed to death," she said. "If it had been too much longer, we could've lost her."
Yet, she says, no one at the school called 911.
Thankfully, Chelsea survived, and for more than a year, Fabiszak spoke at every school board meeting, demanding answers about special needs education.
"My daughter nearly died at the hands of the Hillsborough County School District," she said during the Valentine's Day meeting.
The only shocked board member in the video who pleaded for help, though, was April Griffin.
"This cannot, cannot continue," she said. "I cannot sit here, my heart rate is up, and listen to this anymore."
Though not public knowledge yet, the meeting took place just weeks after Isabella Herrera, another special needs student, choked in her wheelchair on the bus and died.
Then, in October, Jenny Caballero, a student with Down Syndrome, wandered from gym class and drowned in a nearby pond.
"They wouldn't listen to me," Fabiszak said. "They wouldn't hear me."
The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office later ruled no wrongdoing in Chelsea's case and closed the case without filing any charges.
"It's going to get to the point where these parents can't depend on the school system, and they're going to have to keep their kids at home, which is denying them their rights," Pittman said.
Fabiszak finally complained directly to Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.
"We begged her, face to face, 'Please. This is never about money. Someone's going to die,'" Fabiszak said.
She had no idea that two students eventually would.
Fabiszak recently gave up and moved her family back to California, but she continued to fight the school district in court over her complaints that they did not comply with Chelsea's education plan.
The suit seemed to hit one legal wall after another, until the deaths of Caballero and Herrera recently skyrocketed media attention toward the school board.
Then, just last week, the Hillsborough County Schools ESE Supervisor sent Fabiszak an e-mail.
"Dear Mrs. Fabiszak: I am writing to inquire about your interest in discussing resolution options related to the pending due process case involving your daughter, Chelsea. The district is available to discuss settlement with you, if you are interested in this. Please let me know if you would like to explore such options so that I may inform the appropriate district personnel and our School Board attorney. Sincerely, Cristina Benito."
"It should've never gotten to this point. Never," Fabiszak said. "They are a value. They are an asset. They deserve better."
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