School board suspends bus driver without pay after charges of child abuse

TAMPA - Hillsborough County School Board members voted Tuesday afternoon to suspend a bus driver without pay.

Stephanie Wilkerson was arrested in late October and charged with child abuse after an altercation with an 8-year-old student. 

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office, the student slapped Wilkerson while refusing to step off the bus, so Wilkerson used her foot to push her off. The student broke her ankle.

Prior to Tuesday's decision, Wilkerson was suspended with pay.

"We're talking about egregious behavior.  We're talking about a pattern, if you will, where staff aren't trained and they're not held accountable," said Jose Colindres. "We need answers and we need them now!"

While the school board met Tuesday evening, Colindres and several other concerned citizens protested outside. They held signs calling for justice and a federal investigation, in light of what they call a timeline of abuse and neglect involving special needs students.
 
In January, 7-year-old Bella Herrera choked on a school bus ride home, and died the next day.  Her parents are suing the school district in federal court.

In October, 11-year-old Jenny Caballero, a student with Down Syndrome, wandered away from gym class at Rodgers Middle School and drowned in a nearby pond.

"The school district has to be willing to acknowledge their mistakes, investigate their mistakes, and learn from their mistakes, so that these things do not happen again," said Michael Weston.

Weston, Colindres, and the handful of protesters outside Tuesday plan to return to every school board meeting until there is an FBI investigation.

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