School board considers changes in wake of student deaths - WFLA News Channel 8

Hillsborough school board considers changes in wake of student deaths

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© Lisa and Dennis Herrera remember their daughter, Bella, as a happy 7-year-old who loved Barbie and the color pink. (Photo: Jason Behnken) © Lisa and Dennis Herrera remember their daughter, Bella, as a happy 7-year-old who loved Barbie and the color pink. (Photo: Jason Behnken)
HILLSBOROUGH COUNTY, FL (WFLA) -

Hillsborough County School Board members agreed Thursday change is needed following the deaths of Bella Herrera,7, and Jenny Caballero,11. Both special needs students died last year in unrelated incidents while in the care of district employees.

Board members spent three hours Thursday listening to proposed changes for the way the district cares for its 30,000 special needs students. They did not vote on any of the proposals during the work session.

"Unfortunately it has taken two tragedies in our own backyard to get us to this point," said board member Susan Valdes.

Some of the proposed changes are simple, like creating easy to understand emergency checklists for teachers and bus drivers. Some of the other proposals are more complicated. Superintendent MaryEllen Elia said she would like to see incentives, and possibly pay raises, for ESE aides and paraprofessionals.

"We're certainly going to look at the budget as it comes through Tallahassee," said Elia.

Other recommendations presented during Thursday's work session called for more training, emergency scenario drills, and safety videos.

"We've got tough issues," said board member Doretha Edgecomb. "They are incredibly critical."

Freedom High School teacher and student advocate Michael Weston said the district's proposals aren't enough to protect the students who need it most.

"It's too little, too late and it's nothing concrete yet," Weston said after the meeting.

Board member Carol Kurdell, who has a special needs child, said the district is making progress in the face of tragedy.

"I've seen it evolve," said Kurdell. "I've seen it get better and this plan is one more step in that evolution."

Board members say the population of students with special needs or significant medical issues has increased by more than 11,000 since 2004.

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