Parents demand change, accountability after student deaths

Susan Parks' daughter needs teacher's aide

TAMPA - Susan Parks' daughter loves to swim and with help, 5-year-old Vanessa can stand up.

But when she goes to kindergarten, she needs a full-time teacher's aide at her side.

"My daughter is going to be six next month, and she's been in three different schools, so we've not been able to find the right place to meet her needs," said mom Susan Parks.

Five months into the school year, Vanessa still has a substitute aide at Hammond Elementary School. Her mom is one of dozens of parents calling for a major overhaul within the school district in the wake of two special needs student deaths, including Jenny Caballero who drowned while being supervised by teacher's aides and attendants.

"It's tragic that five of them have gotten suspended recently and I mean, are they just taking the blame for a bigger problem. It feels like to me they are," said Parks.

The aides could be fired after a school district investigation. Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia has also appointed a task force. School board member April Griffin says the policy and procedure flaws are district-wide.

"There is an over-arching systemic issue," she said."Are people going to be held accountable? Yes, they will be and at all different levels. This is not just going to be put on the shoulders of the people who are on the ground, in the classroom with these kids."

There are also community activists who spoke to the board Tuesday night who are calling for accountability from the Superintendent herself.

"This goes all the way up to the top of an organization. If this was an army, we need to look at the generals," said community activist Joe Colindres.

This mom only knows her daughter needs a permanent teacher's aide -- someone with training and good heart so Vanessa can go to class like other kids.

"We just want the same thing that other kids get.  We want what she's entitled to, which is an education," she said.

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