TAMPA — Their time is short and their job is daunting. Twelve Hillsborough County public educators are examining a long list of safety issues that affect students in Exceptional Student Education.
At a School Board workshop this week, superintendent MaryEllen Elia said the work group will look at issues from staff training to fence heights in an effort to prevent tragedies such as the deaths this year of Isabella Herrera and Jennifer Caballero. They were special-needs students who attended school in Riverview.
The work group is headed by Ken Otero, a deputy superintendent who has been with the school district since 1975.
He told the Tampa Bay Times he is confident the group can prepare an initial report within 10 days, as Elia has requested. Afterward, he said, there will likely be long-term work by an expanded group.
The core group held its first meeting on Tuesday, he said. It includes two supervisors in the ESE department, Cristina Benito and Maryann Parks.
Also on the work group are Tanly Cabrera, director of administration; Jeff Eakins, general director of federal programs; John Franklin, general manager of transportation; Maria Russ, supervisor of school health services; Christopher Farkas, area director; Joe Perez, manager of professional standards; and Bob Wegman, general manager of maintenance.
The panel also includes Mike Levine and Denise Provenzano, respectively a supervisor and district resource teacher for the Florida Diagnostic & Learning Resources System.
The district's ESE department serves 29,000 students with a wide range of disabilities. Of them, about 4,000 are in ESE classes.
Isabella's parents have sued the school district in connection with her death in January. The 7-year-old, who had a neuromuscular disorder, choked while riding home on a school bus. Neither the aide nor driver called 911, according to a Hillsborough sheriff's report. She died the next day at a hospital.
Deputies are still investigating the October drowning of 11-year-old Jennifer in a retention pond behind Rodgers Middle School. Jennifer had Down syndrome and was supposed to be under the supervision of ESE aides.