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Hillsborough district fires back in ESE lawsuit



The Hillsborough County school district tried again this week to get a civil rights suit about the death of a disabled student thrown out of federal court.

In a motion filed Monday, the district argued that parents Dennis and Lisa Herrera have not made a strong enough case that the district discriminated against Isabella Herrera, a 7-year-old who died on Jan. 26, 2012, a day after suffering respiratory distress on a school bus.

The district contends that the standard for a federal suit is higher than what the Herreras put forth in their Nov. 1 lawsuit. The Herreras allege her wheelchair was not positioned properly, that the staff were not properly trained and failed to call 911 when she stopped breathing.

They contend that the district's “egregious and systemic failures to properly train, inform, plan, communicate, or discuss the safe and proper manner to care for, provide services to and transport disabled students such as Isabella, ultimately resulted in her tragic death.”

But the district argues that these are conclusions and not hard facts. For example: It's not entirely clear if the driver and aide were not allowed to call 911, or if they were supposed to call dispatch (Superintendent MaryEllen Elia has stated publicly that there was no prohibition against calling 911).

To the allegations that the driver and aide did not position Isabella's wheelchair properly, the district says those statements offer "no allegation of fact as to what was the allegedly proper positioning" or why Isabella was in danger. "Similarly, the Plaintiff alleges a failure to 'train' but not what training was not provided.... The Plaintiffs allege a requirement of 'special equipment' but do not identify it."

Previously, the district said this cannot be a discrimination case because the Herreras have not shown any intent to discriminate. The Herreras argue that systematic indifference -- which they hope to demonstrate in the suit -- amounts to discrimination.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 29, 2013 6:48am]


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