Thursday, June 21, 2018
Education

Protesters want protection for Hillsborough students with special needs

TAMPA — With her 9-year-old son Anthony nearby, Theresa Mastella stood outside the Hillsborough County Children's Board headquarters on Thursday, waving a sign that said "Schools should be safe."

Anthony has Down syndrome and, like other parents, Mastella was moved by the news of two deaths this year of special-needs students in Hillsborough County.

"It just brings up all the issues that have been going on for years in the schools," said Mastella, who is active in a Down syndrome support group. "Unfortunately, it took two tragedies to bring it to light."

About 25 other protesters stood with her, including some children. Rhonda Ward, a volunteer advocate whose son has spina bifida, came all the way from Broward County.

Their issues ran the gamut from improved services in the Hillsborough district to state laws that would hold districts more accountable for serving disabled students.

"It's a systemic issue, it's not just here," Ward said. "They make everything as difficult as possible."

The Hillsborough district has a work group studying safety in the Exceptional Student Education program, which serves 29,000 students. Issues include staff training and protocols for moving students from one section of campus to another.

District spokesman Stephen Hegarty said of the protest, "This group is advocating for children and for ensuring the safety of children, and we are interested in all of those things as well. We are hard at work reviewing everything we do."

The district also is investigating the death of Jennifer Caballero, who drowned in a retention pond behind her middle school after wandering away from gym class.

Some of the parents Thursday said Caballero's death affected them on a personal level.

Diane Rodgers, whose 12-year-old son has Down syndrome, spoke highly of his teachers and aides.

But there was one morning when, at 4, her son wound up alone in the bus lane while teachers and aides were occupied. Rodgers said she had lingered at the school and discovered him, by sheer coincidence, before he wandered off.

"Everyone you talk to has a story," she said.

Samuel Felix, 18, said he was sickened by news of the two deaths. He has Asperger's syndrome and plans to take courses next year at St. Petersburg College.

"I believe that all of us were made equal on this earth and should be treated as equals," he said.

The protest coincided with the Children's Board's legislative summit, an event that brings community members together to discuss issues they wish to take to the Legislature.

Pam Iorio, the Children's Board's interim chief executive, said some of the protesters participated in the summit.

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Comments
Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

Hernando school officials set to discuss replacement, sever ties after firing Superintendent Lori Romano

BROOKSVILLE — With dust still settling from the Hernando County School Board’s close vote to fire Superintendent Lori Romano — and days before her time as head of the district runs out — school officials and community members seem to be already movin...
Published: 06/20/18
Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

Hernando students score slightly better on state tests

BROOKSVILLE — As schools and districts across the state await their 2018 grades from the Florida Department of Education, the standardized test scores that factor into those ratings and were dropped last week show slight gains in Hernando County.The ...
Published: 06/20/18
Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

Budget analysis projects deficit, deepened by security costs, for Pasco schools in coming year

An early analysis of the Pasco County School District’s 2018-2019 budget projects a deficit of more than a million dollars, with more than half of that coming from a shortfall in funding new school safety requirements.Costs to hire and train 53 new s...
Published: 06/20/18
New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

New dorm still coming to USF St. Petersburg, but in a smaller package

ST. PETERSBURG — Originally pitched as a nine- or 10-story, 550-bed dorm for the overcrowded University of South Florida St. Petersburg campus, USF’s latest residence hall project will likely look much different by the time it’s done.For starters, it...
Published: 06/20/18
Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Carlton: From Sun Dome to Beer Stadium: Don’t let suds scare you

Am I missing something in the — pardon the expression — brouhaha over the renaming of the University of South Florida Sun Dome to the Yuengling Center? In trading a college arena’s longtime name for that of a big-name beer brewed ne...
Published: 06/20/18

Hillsborough school district will pursue two kinds of local taxes

TAMPA — Hillsborough County School District officials took an important step Tuesday toward asking the voters to pay higher taxes for schools that, they say, are not getting enough money from the state.The board voted 5-0 to submit a tax referendum r...
Published: 06/19/18
Updated: 06/20/18
Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Ethan Hooper steps up with a salute to teachers

Editor’s note: Ethan Hooper wrote today’s column to give Ernest Hooper Father’s Day off.In May, I graduated from the University of Central Florida with a degree in elementary education, and I recently secured a job as a first-grade teacher with Orang...
Published: 06/18/18
AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

AP World History course is dropping thousands of years of human events - and critics are furious

Since 2002, the AP World History course has covered thousands of years of human activity around the planet, starting 10,000 years back. But now the College Board, which owns the Advanced Placement program, wants to cut out most of that history and st...
Published: 06/16/18
School board races attract new faces

School board races attract new faces

TAMPA — When long-time Hillsborough County School Board member Susan Valdes resigned this month from the board to run for the State House of Representatives, the decision affected more than just her seat in west Hillsborough’s District 1.It also coul...
Published: 06/14/18
Updated: 06/17/18
Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

Hillsborough schools tax referendum is unlikely for November

TAMPA — Money that the Hillsborough County School District needs to build schools and replace air conditioners might be farther from reach, thanks to a new state law and a bureaucratic process required before the voters can decide on a tax referendum...
Published: 06/14/18