Hillsborough School District under fire for deaths of special needs kids

HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY - The Hillsborough County School District is under fire after two special needs children have died while on school property, with two other reports of special needs students being injured.  All if which happened this year. Now the school board, as well as their attorney are meeting about the issue.

Around 12:00 on Thursday afternoon, the board began those conversations about possible changes in regards to the special education program's policies and procedures within the district.

"This can't happen again," said board member Susan Valdes.

Currently, the parents of 7-year-old Isbella Herrera are suing the district for their daughter's death.  She choked while riding home on the bus and later died at the hospital. Repots are she was not correctly harnessed in her wheel chair as she suffered from a neuromuscular disorder.

"I wanted to make sure staff doesn't think using common sense will get them in trouble with this board," said board member April Griffin.  "But I don't want to prolong discussion because we're still in the discovery stage."

The District's current policy which requires bus drivers to call dispatch first if there is an emergency of any kind on their bus.  At which time, dispatch is to call 911. A 911 call was not made from the bus, just the dispatch call the driver was responsible for making.

"We need to respond and know what we're doing is the correct thing to do to provide the best experience for our students," said Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.  "We are not content with the status quo... we're not going to sit back and hope nothing else happens."

In addition to the death of Herrera in January of this year, a Roberts Middle School student with Down Syndrome died after wandering off from a gym class in October.  She drowned in a retention pond behind the school.

A Facebook page has been set up by parents in the community calling for change to the district's way of doing things when it comes to special needs children. A protest has been planned at the school board office in downtown Tampa at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday.

During that time, the county attorney as well as the school board are scheduled to meet in a closed door session. While it has not been made completely clear what they will talk about, a spokesman with the district says pending litigation will be discussed.

School board member April Griffin said this to us over the phone in regards to the upcoming meeting, "This is an opportunity for the Board to talk about the litigation. I am going to be recommending that we settle
Quickly on one case in particular based on one case in particular based on what I have seen on the video."

We reached out to the district's attorney, Tom Gonzalez, but he was unavailable for comment.


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