Task force releases ESE student recommendations - FOX 13 News

Task force releases ESE student recommendations

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

A group tasked with reviewing every policy and procedure involving special needs students in Hillsborough County is out with its recommendations.

The group came together after the deaths of two ESE students in the care of Hillsborough Schools.

"I think this has to be seen as an approach that has to be systematic and that we look at all of it and say what factors in combinations do we have to address," said Superintendent Mary Ellen Elia.

The most glaring change is in training. Instead of training being "offered" to ESE aides and bus drivers, the group believes formal district training should be "mandatory."

Each employee must sign a form after taking the training, acknowledging they finished the requirements.

While school board members are not involved in the group's findings, April Griffin, Susan Valdes and newcomer Cindy Stewart listened in.

Susan Valdes agreed with the mandatory training.

"If you say we're a team, then let's act like a team. Then everyone should be well-trained, and if you're working with kids, it's a huge responsibility," Valdes said.

Griffin said the sticking point in the past had always been union negotiations. But says that will have to change.

"We have to tell the union, look, we're at a point where we have to do what's best for the safety of the kids," Griffin said.

The recommendations also say a bonus pay should be considered for aides who work with at risk or medically fragile students. The hope is the extra money will entice more experience workers.

The list of recommendations also call for a series of new checklists and new procedures, like what to do if a child goes missing or what to do in a medical emergency

Jeff Eakins, who heads the superintendent's work group, said the emergency medical checklist was too long and comprehensive. And said it may be too difficult to recall in the event of an emergency.

So they want to simplify it from nine steps to three, and it all sounds like common sense.

-Immediately contact a supervisor to call 911 or call 911 directly when a cell phone is available.

-Assist victim based on the current situation

-Stay with the victim until help arrives

Some parents on the council say it may have never helped in Jenny Caballero's death, because the Sheriff's Office report showed it wasn't necessarily a lack of training, but just aides that weren't paying attention.

"Aides sitting in the bleachers and not participating is not a training issue, it's really an issue of, are these kids really valued and how much a part of the school community they are."

Parents told the group, special needs students are treated differently in the district, mostly kept away from regular ed kids.

"They don't eat lunch with regular kids, they're not on the playground, they're not in PE, They're not in those kinds of opportunities,"

The advisory council is being asked to review the recommendations and make changes or additions if needed. They want to have it all back by December 5th, so they can finalize their report to the superintendent.

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