Parents of special needs children and Hillsborough School District officials met on Friday to discuss potential improvements to special needs policies in an attempt to improve student safety. This comes in the wake of two deaths of special needs students in the last year.
The Superintendent's Council was created to allow parents to have a voice in efforts to improve education for students with disabilities. On Friday, they discussed 26 recommendations for improvements intended to improve safety.
"If you don't include that parent, then you're really missing a big part of that student's life, because those parents are going to be experts in their children," said Ana Sanders, president of the council and parent of a special needs student.
Jenny Caballero drowned at Rodgers Middle School in October after vanishing from a gym class. Five aides were supposed to be watching her. Some of the changes proposed on Friday include more training for aides and creating an emergency plan for situations when a student runs away.
Isabella Herrera died after a medical emergency on a bus earlier this year. The district is now considering more training for bus drivers and attendants on how to handle medical emergencies. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia says the proposed changes go beyond just the two tragedies.
"I think we have to look at this in a bigger picture. We certainly have a tragedy that has spurred us making these recommendations, and putting together what you saw today, but I think this needs to be seen as an approach that will be systemic," Elia said.
Some disability advocates who attended the meeting blame district leaders for not acting sooner.
"There were a lot of good recommendations, and I've seen this process before, but I can tell you that without enforced accountability it's not worth the time and effort that they have put into this," said Richard Hancock.
But parents participating in the council say they believe these changes are a step in the right direction.
"Now, it's hopefully going to be a lot more safer for our children, and better education for our children, and just better communication," said Janet Atkinson.
The council will discuss the suggestions over the next week before final recommendations are made. To see the documents that they discussed today, including job descriptions and district protocol review, click this link: http://wfts.tv/U7oz7A