Monday, May 21, 2018
Education

Video shows Hillsborough school bus driver kicking child

TAMPA — It's early morning. A school bus is parked outside Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School.

A video shows driver Stephanie Wilkerson, 41, guiding the children down the stairs. The first two leave, no problem.

But the third child pushes and shoves the driver. They are special-needs students, according to a police report, and the 8-year-old girl has autism.

Two minutes into the video, released Wednesday by the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office, you see the child hesitate on the stairs while a fourth child rocks back and forth behind Wilkerson, itching to leave.

Minute 2:16. Wilkerson thrusts her left foot forward. It makes contact with the child. She falls. She rolls around on the ground.

She does not stand up.

Wilkerson, who was hired by the Hillsborough County School District in 2008 and earned $14,500 a year, now faces a charge of aggravated child abuse, a first-degree felony. She pleaded not guilty. Police say the child broke her ankle in the fall.

The incident happened on Sept. 28, about a month before another family sued the district, saying their daughter went into respiratory distress because her wheelchair was not positioned properly on a bus. No one called 911 and the child died.

Since then the district has been working to improve safety training, especially when it comes to students with disabilities.

But none of that enters into the Wilkerson case, said district spokesman Stephen Hegarty. "It's completely unacceptable," he said. "She was immediately suspended and her employment was terminated."

The girl's family has a lawyer, according to a district report. The schools' attorney contends the district is not responsible for what he calls an "intentional act." He cited a state law that says government is not liable if an employee acts "in bad faith or with malicious purpose or in a manner exhibiting wanton and willful disregard of human rights, safety, or property."

Like other districts, Hillsborough faces a shortage of school bus drivers. At last count there were 144 unfilled vacancies. Another 21 are on leaves of absence, and the rate of absenteeism is 20 percent.

The president of the union that represents them, Vicki Lawry, told the School Board recently that some drivers make double and triple runs to fill the gaps. In other cases, she said, "we're talking 65 to 77 students with one adult to control it all."

A far smaller number are shown on the video of Wilkerson's bus. After the girl falls to the ground, Wilkerson is shown following her off the bus, where several adults hover around her.

She remains on the ground until one of the adults carries her away about three minutes later.

Wilkerson leaves, then returns to the bus. She waits, drumming her fingers on the dashboard. Another adult brings her a beverage. They talk. Wilkerson becomes animated, gesturing to the other adult.

At minute 10:24, she pulls her bus away.

She was arrested on Oct.25.

Alexandra Zayas contributed to this report. Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or [email protected]

Comments
Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

Parents score victory in effort to make travel safer for Westchase students

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school leaders call it courtesy busing, but to Lauren Hawkins it’s more a matter of life and death.More students living close to their schools in the Westchase community used the Hillsborough school district’s courtesy bus...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

Eckerd College hosts a royal celebration of its own

A day after England’s royal wedding between Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, St. Petersburg hosted a royal celebration of its own. Among the estimated 500 graduates to receive an Eckerd College diploma at Sunday’s graduation ceremony held...
Updated: 5 hours ago
At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

At vigil, another school mourns: ‘It is hope in the face of tragedy that brings us together today.’

SANTA FE, Texas - They gathered here by the dozens Friday evening, wearing their school colors, T-shirts that said "Texas Tough," while huddling under the shade of a gaggle of pine trees, not 11 hours after the first shots were fired.They came to pra...
Published: 05/19/18
‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

‘I always felt it would eventually happen here’: A Santa Fe High School survivor’s reaction to the shooting

Paige Curry tried to keep calm Friday morning as a gunman tore through her Santa Fe High School, eventually killing 10 people and injuring another 10. The 17-year-old watched as a girl nearby panicked. Curry, herself terrified, considered running out...
Published: 05/19/18
Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Class of 2018: Meet the valedictorians and salutatorians for Pinellas private high schools

Before they could get away, we asked the top graduates at Pinellas County’s private schools to write a Twitter-length paragraph about what’s on their mind. We suggested they reflect on the past or the future, or talk about the people who helped them ...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/18/18
Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

Class of 2018: TBT’s Anita Morgan rises above abuse to thrive

TAMPA — For those who fear there is no hope, or help, or heart left in this world, there is the story of Anita Morgan.There are any number of life-wrenching places to begin …In the middle of the night, in the back of a police car, cruising over the b...
Published: 05/17/18
Updated: 05/18/18
Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

Florida teacher accused of drowning raccoons in class placed on leave

A Florida teacher was placed on administrative leave after school officials were told that he had students help him drown wild raccoons during class.A 14-second video published by CBS affiliate WKMG showed a group of students filling a tub of water u...
Published: 05/17/18
The US spends less on children than almost any other developed nation

The US spends less on children than almost any other developed nation

The federal government now spends less than it did about 30 years ago on some of the country’s poorest children, the result of cuts to federal welfare programs, according to a new research paper.In 1990, the government spent about $8,700 on every chi...
Published: 05/17/18
Two gifts on graduation day: white Crocs, and a lesson that ‘it can’t hurt to ask’

Two gifts on graduation day: white Crocs, and a lesson that ‘it can’t hurt to ask’

ST. PETERSBURG — Sarah Agee and her friends never pictured themselves wearing Crocs to their graduation. But the foam shoes were comfortable, offered better footing than heels, and now the Seminole High seniors had a story to tell.It all started a li...
Published: 05/16/18
Updated: 05/17/18