Disabled girl's parents seek to establish a pattern in second discrimination suit against Hillsborough district
A child killed by a car in 1999 when a bus driver left him at the wrong spot. A student sent home with a broken leg in 2011. A small child left on a bus, unattended, at Lopez Elementary School later that same year. A girl allegedly nudged or kicked off the bus by its driver at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School in 2012.
Not to mention Jennifer Caballero, who drowned in a pond behind Rodgers Middle School in October.
Lawyers for the late Isabella Herrera allege these incidents constitute a pattern of "failing to ensure the safety and well-being of ESE students" in the Hillsborough County Public Schools. Not only that, the amended suit alleges: The district for years had an exceptional student education chief who was not state-certified in ESE.
Isabella, 7, died in January 2012 after she went approximately 15 minutes unable to breathe on a school bus from Sessums Elementary School. She used a wheelchair because a neuromuscular disorder made it hard for her to sit up. Two employees on the bus had cell phones but did not call 911. School officials, after watching the bus video, determined they had followed protocol, which was to notify dispatch and their supervisors in a medical emergency.
Isabella's parents sued in November in federal court, hoping to prove discrimination against disabled students. Judge James Moody ruled in March that their case did not meet the tests for a federal suit under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Further, he wrote that they did not show a longstanding practice by the district of ignoring complaints by disabled students; nor did they show the district knew its employees needed more training and deliberately chose not to provide it.
But Moody did give the Herreras the option to refile. And, by listing these events, the lawyers clearly are trying to establish there is a pattern.
The school district plans to file its response on April 24.
"We do not comment on pending litigation," district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said on Thursday.
In previous filings, the district has argued that the Herreras' allegations constitute negligence, not discrimination. But a negligence suit would likely be filed in state court, and the award would be limited by sovereign immunity.