Firings, demotions recommended in wake of student's drowning - FOX 13 News

Firings, demotions recommended in wake of student's drowning

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TAMPA (FOX 13) -

Two aides with the Hillsborough County School system have been fired in the wake of the drowning death of a special needs student.

Eleven-year-old Jennifer Caballero wandered away from Rodgers Middle School in Riverview last October, and drowned in a nearby pond.

In addition to the firings, the principal and assistant principal at Rodgers will be demoted and reassigned to other schools.

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Five aides had been suspended during the investigation into Caballero's death.

In addition to the two aides being terminated:

  • One other aide resigned
  • One retired
  • One was not disciplined

According to the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office investigation, last October, a P.E. teacher found Caballero hiding under bleachers, and took her to the aides, demanding they keep a closer eye on her.

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

The aides then spent several minutes looking for Jenny before reporting her missing to administrators.

Six hours later, dive teams found her at the bottom of a pond near the school.

That P.E. teacher has resigned.

The sheriff's office classified Caballero's death as "accidental," and the state attorney's office declined to press charges.

Caballero's death wasn't the first: 7-year-old Isabella Herrera, another special needs student, died of respiratory distress on a Hillsborough County school bus on January 25, 2012. Her parents have sued the school district.

Both deaths touched off a firestorm of turmoil on the Hillsborough County School Board, with some school board members saying they did not even know about Herrera's death until October, when her parent filed the lawsuit against the district.

Wednesday, Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the two fired staff members were "most directly responsible" for supervising the students.

She said the other staff members would have been fired if they hadn't stepped down, and added that the principal , Sharon Tumicki, had been aware of problems with the employees.

"Our investigation reflects she was aware of the problems with the aides and did not take necessary actions in a timely way," Elia said. "Again, I don't think it's fair to hold Ms. Tumicki directly responsible for the incident, but she was ultimately responsible for the performance of the aides and her assistant principal."

Assistant principal Shawn Livingston was moved out of Rodgers and demoted to the position of a classroom teacher at another school.

"Our investigation reflects Mr. Livingston was asked to speak to the ESE aides due to their lack of attentiveness towards the students in their care," Elia said. "The aides are being held accountable for their inattentiveness and Mr. Livingston is being held accountable for not following up on the request in a timely way."

But Livingston is fighting back, requesting a hearing before the school board. A letter from his attorney says he's challenging the factual basis for the superintendent's decision. But at least one board member says the discipline is appropriate.

"Right now, we're trying to gain the public's confidence back in this school district, and making sure we do everything we can to ensure our kids safety, and restore the public's confidence," school board chair April Griffin said.

Meanwhile, Jennifer Caballero's family was not speaking to the media Wednesday; instead, their attorney released a statement:

"Jenny's family and I are very supportive of everything superintendent has done so far and continues to do to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening again...we won't comment on the disciplinary actions at this point. We want to respect the superintendent and her process. The family wants to express their gratitude for the measures she has taken since Jenny's death."


Previous coverage:

School copes with student's drowning:

Sheriff, superintendent meet to discuss girl's death:

School board members incensed as changes are recommended:


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