LAKELAND, Fla. — The State Board of Education is now requiring all public school district employees who transport students to be CPR and first aid certified.
The rule change was requested by Senator Kelli Stargel’s office after a Polk County special needs student, Terissa Gautney, died in 2018 while riding a school bus.
A video from February 28, 2018 provided to ABC Action News shows the student, who was in a wheelchair, with her head down and an attendant looking at her but not taking action. Reports show Terissa slowly suffocated because of the way her head was positioned.
Terissa’s parents claim if any type of first aid or CPR training would have been required before this incident, their daughter may have survived.
“We know it’s not going to bring our daughter back but if it keeps one family from having to make the decision to take their child off of life support, and hold their hand while they take their last breath, then it’s worth it,” David Gautney, Terissa’s father said.
Prior to this amendment, school bus drivers and attendants were only required to have written instructions on how to care for special needs students.
Polk County Public Schools tells ABC Action News by the beginning of the school year all 600+ buses will also be equipped with new radios to improve routine and emergency communication. The radios will be able to directly connect to the county’s emergency radio system.
This change also comes after Terissa Gautney’s death.
“We know safety is important to us and our school buildings” Jaqueline M. Byrd, the superintendent of schools said. “But our buses also represent an area where we have to make sure our children are safe.”
The project will cost more than $6 million plus interest and yearly service fees. The district’s finance department is still exploring various options to pay for the upgrade, including whether funding from the recently renewed half-cent sales tax could be utilized.