TAMPA — The Hillsborough County School District will pay more than $500,000 to the family of a special-needs child who drowned behind her Riverview middle school, subject to a vote Tuesday by the School Board.
Jennifer Caballero was an 11-year-old student with Down syndrome at Rodgers Middle School when she vanished from a crowded physical education class on Oct. 22, 2012.
After a frenzied search involving school staff and Hillsborough County sheriff's deputies, her body was recovered from a retention pond near the school that evening.
There was no lawsuit, but the Tampa law firm of Adams and Diaco represented the girl's parents and has been in negotiations with the school district.
The proposed settlement calls for an initial payment of $200,000 to Tarsicio Caballero-Perez and Elizabeth Rosas Pesina — Jennifer's parents — and the law firm.
After that, there would be monthly payments to the family of first $750 and then $1,497.30, along with yearly payments of $1,000, totalling as much as $393,481 over time.
In exchange, under terms of the deal, the family would agree not to sue.
Investigations by the Sheriff's Office and the district resulted in three firings and several resignations at the school.
One employee, assistant principal Shawn Livingston, successfully appealed his firing. At the end of the school year, special needs classes were taken out of Rodgers, but officials said that was not related to the drowning.
Jennifer was one of two special-needs children who died in 2012 under circumstances that involved district supervision.
Nine days after Jennifer died, the public learned that Isabella Herrera, a 7-year-old with a neuromuscular disorder, had stopped breathing that January while riding home on a school bus from Sessums Elementary School in Riverview.
Neither the driver nor the aide called 911, and she was pronounced dead the next day at a hospital.
Isabella's parents have a lawsuit pending in U.S. District Court.
In the aftermath of the two deaths, the district tightened procedures on special-needs busses, increased training for exceptional student education aides and introduced safety training for all school employees designed to make them aware of students' diverse needs.
Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 810-5068 or firstname.lastname@example.org.