Hearing examines student's special needs

TAMPA - One after other, Hillsborough County School employees took the witness stand Wednesday morning, defending the district against allegations of neglecting a special needs student in 2011.

Veleria Fabiszak, mother of Chelsea Fabiszak, a former Hillsborough County ESE student, shook her head in in disgust.

"The school district continues to get no cause for correction, so why should they change? Unfortunately, the death toll rises in this district," she said. "What does that tell you?"

The hearing, expected to continue all week, centers on an incident on February 3, 2011, when Ms. Fabiszak claims she picked up Chelsea from school and found she had a broken femur, and urine soaking her entire lower body.  Fabiszak says she was shocked to learn no one knew, and therefore never called 911.

Fabiszak believes Chelsea could have died at the hands of the Hillsborough County school district that day, so she repeatedly spoke out at school board meetings, warning members of what she calls inept and outdated education protocol for special needs students.

Not long after her warnings, two ESE students died.  In January, 2012, Bella Herrera, 7, choked in her wheelchair on the bus ride home.  Jenny Caballero, 11, wandered away from gym class and drowned in a nearby pond.

After the incident, Fabiszak pulled Chelsea out of the school system. Though the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office found no wrongdoing, she is suing the district for denying Chelsea the ESE learning plan to which they had agreed.

Throughout the hearing Wednesday, nurses and administrators defended the services offered through the school system, describing Chelsea as someone who was much weaker than her mother ever told them.

At one point, school nursing chief Maria Russ, testified that Ms. Fabiszak advised them not to call 911 for seizures.  Even so, it's school policy not to call 911 if a child seizes regularly.

"If it's a child we didn't know had seizures, we'd call 911 right away.  We don't call 911 right away if we know the child has seizures," Russ explained.

If Fabiszak wins, the school system may have to pay her two years worth of education, which could add up to several hundred thousand dollars.

"This is about a Pandora's Box.  If they do it for one, they have to do it for all," she said. "They haven't gotten the message, clearly.  They haven't gotten the message.  There's no change.  How many more children need to die?"

The hearing will continue Thursday.

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