Two little girls never met in their respective Hillsborough County Schools, but they share a tragic bond. Both were special needs students who lost their lives much too soon.
One died on the school bus, and the other drowned after leaving a gym class. Some parents are demanding the school district make major changes to keep other special needs students safe.
They waved their signs at all four corners around the building while the board met inside Thursday afternoon -- people outraged at what happened to special needs students recently in Hillsborough County.
They're calling for the resignation of the Superintendent and Board Chairwoman Candy Olson.
"They are urged to use good judgment and common sense and have the autonomy to call 911 if necessary," said Hillsborough Schools Board Member April Griffin. "I find this to be acceptable"
It was a change in procedure. Now, drivers and aides should use common sense on school buses.
"It should be common sense, and it's sad that you're spending so much time now, 11 months after something happened, to do that," said a concerned citizen Jose Colindres, who was among protestors outside the Board Meeting Thursday afternoon.
"She can't breathe, she's turning blue," said an aide on the stunning video that triggered a lawsuit. It shows a bus driver and an aide calling the bus dispatch center and her mother, when 7-year-old student Isabella Herrera began choking to death.
They knew she was in distress but neither called 911. No one was fired after her death. It turns out, they were following the rules.
"That is such a painful video to watch," said Colindres. "Because anyone that has a child or family member, special needs or not, that's just a loved one in distress."
Bella's death came to light last week, after her family sued the district. Plus, another recent incident where 11-year-old Jenny Caballero slipped away from a gym class and drowned.
Now, there is a call to protect all children in Hillsborough schools.
"It says Bella forgives you Candy," said former special needs teacher Michael Weston, who called Board Chairwoman Candy Olson callous. He held a sign with Bella's picture on it.
"When asked about, in particular, the child dying on the school bus, Candy Olson replied, that a child died the next day in a hospital, to say that a child died on the school bus is nothing but malarkey, I find these statements offensive beyond belief," said Weston.
The Superintendent defended her bus drivers and aides.
"I would say to you very clearly, our drivers and the aides on those buses try very, very hard to make sure they cover all of the existing situations, and do everything they can to support those children," said Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia.
"Our hearts break for these families, and we can do better as a society, we can do better in this county in protecting our children," said Reverend Clark Edwards of the Wesley Memorial United Methodist Church.
"What we gonna do, wait til somebody else dies? It's time for them to do something!," said concerned citizen Joe Robinson.
The superintendent has formed a special work group and gave them ten days to review every protocol, which involves special needs students. This includes staffing models, training, supervision, emergency calls, even the height of fences around campus and more, then report back to her with their findings.
FOX 13 / WTVT-TV
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