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Hillsborough school district wants no more discovery in ESE suit



Lawyers for the family of Isabella Herrera had plenty of time for discovery and don't deserve any more, the Hillsborough County school district argued in a motion this week in U.S. District Court.

Deadlines were twice extended. Expert witnesses have been identified. John Franklin, the general manager of transportation, has been deposed and already discussed how his department was reorganized in 2007-2008.

The lawyers, who filed suit on Nov. 1, 2012, want to re-open discovery because of a memo circulated recently by four transportation trainers who describe safety concerns for exceptional student education (ESE). Isabella, a special-needs student, died after she stopped breathing on a bus and staff did not call 911. The lawsuit alleges she was not properly seated in her wheelchair. They lawyers say widespread mistreatment of ESE students amounts to discrimination, making this a case that can be tried in federal court. The district says the suit belongs in state court, as it alleges negligeance, and that there is no discrimination.

The Herreras' lawyers want to depose the four workers who signed the memo, and re-depose Franklin. Issues include the 2007-2008 reorganization which, the workers' memo alleges, took some trainers out of the front lines.

Buy why ask about it now? the district argues in its motion. "The fact of the reorganization ws readily ascertainable and has been since that time. It was certainly discoverable, from one or more of the witnesses that were deposed. Franklin brought it up in his deposition. The Plaintiffs never inquired on the subject, nor did they use any other device to discover whether there had been a reorganization, what any reorganization had entailed and what was reorganized."

The district also objects because two incidents discussed in the memo -- one at Lopez Exceptional Center and the other at Caminiti -- occurred in 2013, well after Isabella died, and are not material to the lawsuit.

Reopening discovery would require more discovery from the school district as well. Its lawyers "must depend on witnesses who may no longer be witht he School Board, such as the former assistant superintendent fo transportation, two or more deputy superintendents and former drivers and attendants," the district argues.

The district also took issue with trainer Corie Holmes claim that a document existed, directing him not to discuss these matters publicly. The document, which Holmes says he found on a printer, is the second of two pages. It calls for his signature and says, "I am directing you to remain confidential in this matter."

The front page, not included in the memo, is a note from the supervisor to Holmes, admonishing him for the way he reacted after he reported a disabled child was not seated properly on a bus at the Lopez ramp.

"I directed you to let me check on the situation," the supervisor wrote. "You once again aggressive [sic] stated that you had spoken with the school, you had the information and you would be emailing and you would argue this to the end. I stated we would discuss this at the office. You once again began to state you would be emailing and would not be following your directive..."

The statement on page two referred to the conversation between Holmes and his boss, not the safety issue at Lopez, according to the district.

Judge James Moody will rule on whether the new discovery can happen.

[Last modified: Friday, February 21, 2014 1:44pm]


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