Aides suspended in wake of special needs student's death - FOX 13 News

Aides suspended in wake of special needs student's death

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

The Hillsborough County School Board has suspended five aides in connection with the death of 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero, a special needs student who wandered away from her school and drowned in a nearby pond.

The Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office closed its investigation; the state attorney's office says no criminal charges will be filed.

Hillsborough County Schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia spoke about the 800-page sheriff's office report in a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

"I'm not going to summarize that for you, but the report provides a great deal of detail about what happened and did not happen on October 22, and it describes Jenny Caballero's death as an accidental drowning. The report concludes there was no criminal wrongdoing," Elia said.

Elia said the school district will now conduct its own investigation into Caballero's death.

"Our review will have a different focus, with an eye toward employee discipline, policy and procedural changes," she said.

In the meantime, Elia said the five aides have been instructed not to return to school until the district's investigation is completed.

The sheriff's report says a gym teacher found her hiding under bleachers, and took her to the aides, demanding they keep a closer eye on her.

"I picked her up and put her up there, in front of them. I said, ‘you need to watch her.' They both nodded back to me."

According to the report, the coach went back to his class, and within two to three minutes, he said one of the aides yelled, "Coach, Jenny's gone."

The aides then spent several minutes looking for Jenny before reporting her missing to administrators. The assistant principal said that shouldn't have happened.

He said it's supposed to be "all hands on deck" situation.

Jenny's body was found later that afternoon, at the bottom of a nearby pond.


In their meeting Tuesday, school board members called the situation unacceptable. The district is now conducting its own investigation, but some board members say changes are desperately needed.

"I insist that the evaluation be thorough. I insist that we examine the culture of our E.S.E. department. And I insist that the investigation is top to bottom," said board member Stacy White.

"I believe we have a systematic problem and it begins with the leadership of this board and its policies and procedures." says board member Susan Valdez.

"The superintendent tried to comfort the parent by insuring her that she will do everything she can to make sure this doesn't happen. But then again, something did happen in January." says Valdez.

That's when another special needs child, 7-year-old Bella Herrera died, after she was found choking on a school bus. When her mother got there, no one had called 911 or done C.P.R.

They're now suing the district.

"The buck stops with the board. And there's something wrong," Valdez said.

The superintendent says the district's investigation will wrap up early next month. A task force is also looking into all the safety issues involving special needs students throughout the district.


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