Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough School Board member slams reaction of superintendent, chairwoman to students' deaths

TAMPA — On a day when a sheriff's investigation into the death of a student with Down syndrome was released, Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes unleashed scathing words on the superintendent and chairwoman.

She accused board Chairwoman Candy Olson of making "callous" and "insensitive" remarks about another special-needs child who died earlier this year. And she accused superintendent MaryEllen Elia of not knowing the meaning of being proactive.

It infuriated her that nine months had passed between the death of Isabella Herrera — who suffered respiratory distress on a school bus — and the public learning about it from a lawsuit.

She suggested the tragedies might have been avoided if board members had updated district procedures and listened to parents who complain to them.

"I feel that we dismiss the comments made by the citizens," she said. "Sometimes these comments can be used as warning signs."

One parent of a special-needs student has repeatedly told the board workers did not call 911 when her daughter was injured. One of those appearances came shortly after Isabella's death, another situation in which staff apparently did not call 911.

"We responded strongly as a board," Valdes said. "Yet, at this meeting we didn't know that the other situation had occurred in January."

(Olson acknowledged in an interview earlier this month that she had known about the death.)

But Valdes said the episode made it problematic when Elia reassured parents of Jennifer Caballero, who drowned at Rodgers Middle in October, "that she will do everything she can to make sure this doesn't happen."

Valdes took issue with Elia's recent statement that the district is proactive about safety. After reading a dictionary definition of the word, Valdes pointed out that the district has dragged its feet.

"How many procedures do we have that our employees follow that are maybe 10, 15, 20 or 30 years old? I don't know. I really don't know," she said.

Elia left near the start of Valdes' 12-minute speech and didn't return until it was almost over.

Valdes took Olson to task for remarks she made when asked if she was bothered that no school report existed on Isabella's death.

Olson had said at the time: "Do you want to spend your time doing reports or doing your job?" She said Isabella died in the hospital, and that to say she died on the bus was "a lot of malarkey."

On Tuesday, Olson declined to revisit those remarks. "I don't think there is anyone sitting here who is anything but heartbroken for these families," she said.

Hillsborough School Board member slams reaction of superintendent, chairwoman to students' deaths 11/13/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, November 13, 2012 10:55pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. 'Siesta Key' star punched in face, not sure who did it


    TAMPA —Alex Kompothecras, cast member on MTV's reality show "Siesta Key," tells police he was punched in the face outside a bar in Tampa's SoHo district.

    Alex Kompothecras, Juliette Porter, Pauly Apostolides, Madisson Hausburg, Chloe Trautman, Garrett Miller, Kelsey Owens and Brandon Gomes pose for a photo in Siesta Key in June before the debut of the MTV reality series Siesta Key. [
EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  2. Editorial: Senate health care bill would be disastrous for Florida


    The frantic effort by Senate Republicans to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act with something — anything — ranks raw politics over sound policy and threatens the health care of millions of Floridians. It is a desperate attempt to declare victory by shifting responsibility from the federal government …

    Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., speaks in August in Doral.
  3. Four questions the Lightning still has to answer

    Lightning Strikes

    FORT LAUDERDALE — The Lightning made its biggest round of cuts Monday, with some of the big-named prospects heading out.

    Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (91) looks on from the bench during a shift change at Lightning hockey training camp in Brandon on Monday (09/18/17). In background on right is Nikita Kucherov (86). DIRK SHADD   |   Times  

  4. Nine Florida football players, 62 felony complaints in fraud scandal


    GAINESVILLE — The fraud scandal that has engulfed the University of Florida's nationally ranked football team for weeks exploded Monday with the first detailed accounts of criminal accusations that threaten to derail the Gators' season.

    Florida Gators wide receiver Antonio Callaway (81) runs the ball during the Outback Bowl in January at Raymond James Stadium. [CHARLIE KAIJO   |   Times]
  5. Where Rays shortstop Matt Duffy's lost season leads

    The Heater

    BRADENTON — In a perfect world Matt Duffy would have been in New York on Monday with his Rays teammates enjoying the final off day of the year. Instead, he was on Field 4 at Pirate City on a sweltering afternoon, trying to restart his season.

    Rays shortstop Matt Duffy plays in his first game (since rehab was aborted) with the club's instructional league on Monday at the Pirate City baseball field and spring training complex in Bradenton [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times]