TAMPA, Fla. - Video newly released Wednesday by the state attorney's office shows exactly what happened September 28 when a Hillsborough County school bus driver literally kicked off a special needs student, breaking her ankle.
The video lasts several minutes, depicting tension that mounts as Stephanie Wilkerson waits for the 8-year-old student to walk off the bus.
After the student continues standing in the entrance, Wilkerson kicks her in the back. The student tumbles down the stairs and onto the ground below.
"You ask for help. You don't have to get physical with a student. That's not your first option or even your second option," explained Hillsborough County Schools Spokesman Steve Hegarty.
Hegarty calls it an isolated incident. The district fired Wilkerson, who faces charges for aggravated child abuse.
"When bus drivers see something like this, and they'll probably see the video on TV tonight, their heart sinks a little bit, because they know they're looking out for their kids every single day," Hegarty explained.
Critics, however, call it an example of a chronic problem with the district, reflecting a lack of training for ESE educators.
"There's a lack of training of staff. There's a lack of supervision," said Jose Colindres. "This is a systemic problem. This is something that needs to be addressed at the very highest levels."
Colindres attends almost every school board meeting, along with a core group of parents who protest outside, complaining about years of negligence faced by ESE students.
They point to last year's high profile deaths, which include a student who choked in her wheelchair while on board a school bus, and another student with Down Syndrome, who wandered away from gym class and drowned in a nearby pond.
"The accountability stops with the bus driver. What about all the levels of management above the bus driver that are supposed to make sure they're trained, supervised?" Colindres said.
The school board created a work group in light of the deaths last year, focused on improving ESE training. They held an intensive training session for bus drivers in January, and plan to release training videos for the upcoming school year.
"They're welcome to their opinion, but I'm telling you that we're looking at everything we're doing to see if we can do it better," Hegarty said.
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