Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

District says it responded to teacher's concerns at Rodgers Middle School

TAMPA — Concerns raised in 2012 by a special-education teacher at Rodgers Middle School were not ignored, school district officials insisted on Tuesday.

Responding to an article in Monday's Tampa Bay Times, superintendent MaryEllen Elia and assistant superintendent George Gaffney described for the School Board steps administrators took to address complaints raised by teacher Jodi White.

White, who has not spoken with the Times, was the afternoon teacher for Jennifer Caballero, an 11-year-old with Down syndrome who drowned behind the Riverview middle school on Oct. 22 after leaving a crowded gym class.

In emails White sent in the months before Jennifer's death, she pleaded for help for three of her high-needs students and said her two aides were overworked. In one, she said her staff was cleaning more than teaching.

However, White was not interviewed in two investigations that followed Jennifer's death, one by the Hillsborough Sheriff's Office and the other by the district.

Gaffney, who researched the issue this week, told the board of multiple responses to White's complaints.

On Sept. 4, he said, an administrator visited the school and helped with the scheduling of aides. Later that month, he said, the area office responded to another of White's emails after clarifying the staffing system with the principal. Administrators also met with Rodgers' assistant principal to discuss scheduling concerns and recommended changes, he said.

The district provided equipment to help lift physically disabled students, he said. And administrators contacted the principal over White's concerns that teachers had to revise individual education plans.

"So we just want to recap that a number of times, there was contact at the school site with administrators at the school site and with the teacher," Elia said.

Gaffney also said that when administrators observed White's class, conditions were not always as severe as she described.

As for why White was never interviewed, Elia answered as she did previously: "When the sheriff's investigators are on site, we don't do anything. We don't talk about anybody who we think they should talk to. In fact, they are very clear that they want us to be really far away from the investigation that they are doing, and it's appropriate, I believe, to have that occur."

When district officials did their own investigation, Elia said, "they were addressing the issues that related to the tragedy that occurred to Jenny Caballero, and who was with her at the time in the gymnasium and how the response was at the time."

In the aftermath of Jennifer's death and that of student Isabella Herrera, the district has taken steps to improve safety for exceptional student education, or ESE, students. The first mandatory training for ESE aides begins this morning.

Focus groups are being conducted to get parent input on the district's ESE programs, and Gaffney announced that instead of hand-selecting parents to participate — a method that had drawn some criticism — the district will hold a lottery.

Separately, board members discussed changes to the state's Jessica Lunsford Act, which no longer will give Hillsborough the ability to set its own standards for restricting access to school campuses by contractors.

Under the state law, workers can be banned if they have been convicted of crimes of moral turpitude such as murder, kidnapping, terrorism and several kinds of sex offenses. Hills­borough, until now, also has considered drug offenses and assaults.

"It concerns me greatly that we cannot add any reasons for excluding contractors," board member Candy Olson said.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or

District says it responded to teacher's concerns at Rodgers Middle School 08/13/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 13, 2013 10:43pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. For starters: Rays at Orioles, facing another old friend in Jeremy Hellickson


    The Rays take on the Orioles again tonight and will face another old friend for the first time, as RHP Jeremy Hellickson will take the mound for the home team.

    Hellickson was drafted by the Rays in 2005 and pitched for them from 2010-14, then was traded to Arizona. He has since bounced to the Phillies and …

  2. Pinellas construction licensing board needs to be fixed. But how?

    Local Government

    LARGO –– Everyone agrees that the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board needs to be reformed. But no one agrees on how to do it.

    Rodney Fischer, former executive director of the Pinellas County Construction Licensing Board Rodney, at a February meeting. His management of the agency was criticized by an inspector general's report. [SCOTT KEELER   |   Times]

  3. Charles Bradley, acclaimed Florida soul singer, dies at 68


    Acclaimed Florida R&B powerhouse Charles Bradley, whose raw, pained voice earned him the nickname the Screaming Eagle of Soul, has died of cancer at 68, his representatives announced Saturday.

    Charles Bradley performed at the 2016 Gasparilla Music Festival.
  4. Kriseman and Baker cash race continues as campaigns officially reset


    The mayoral campaign, mostly operating in stealth mode during the two weeks of Hurricane Irma's build-up, arrival and recovery, has entered its stretch run, a compressed schedule of ten days before ballots are mailed to tens of thousands of voters in the Sunshine City.

    Mayor Rick Kriseman and former mayor Rick Baker are emerging from Hurricane Irma mode and getting back into campaign form
  5. Bucs have chance to beat Vikings in their third stadium


    Here's a cool sign that the Bucs are getting up there as an NFL franchise: If Tampa Bay can win Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium, it will mark the first time the Bucs have posted road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.

    TIMES ARCHIVES (2012) | Bucs RB Doug Martin runs during Tampa Bay's 36-17 win at the Vikings in 2012, in what was then called Mall of America Field. If Tampa Bay wins Sunday, it will mark the first time they have road wins against the same NFL opponent in three different stadiums.