Sunday, January 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
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Holding a piece of computer paper and a microphone, the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg began a Friday afternoon forum by repeating the USF administration’s new mantra.He reassured the crowd before him that t...
Published: 01/19/18

Crews Lake thespians overcome the odds

SPRING HILL — It’s 8:30 a.m. — "homeroom" period in school speak — when kids in the Crews Lake Middle School drama club file into an empty chorus room to begin rehearsing under the direction of language arts teacher Kristen Sykora. There’s only 25 m...
Published: 01/19/18
Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

Cuts hit top school leaders as Hillsborough sheds three six-figure salaries

TAMPA — Hillsborough County school superintendent Jeff Eakins on Friday announced the first in a series of belt-tightening moves that include the elimination of three six-figure positions.Jobs now held by Wynne Tye and Larry Sykes will no longer exis...
Published: 01/19/18
Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

Tampa Bay schools warn parents about flu activity, dangers

The Florida Department of Health has reported a sharp increase in flu activity in the last several weeks, prompting area schools to send out letters warning parents about the virus. At least two districts, however, say that flu activity in their scho...
Published: 01/19/18

More than 400 apply to Pasco technical high school

School choice for 2018-19 is in full swing, and district officials said they’ve been pleased with the interest they’ve seen so far.The window for applying to the district’s magnet schools closed Jan. 12, except for applications for the new Wendell Kr...
Published: 01/18/18
Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

Read the report on the fatal FSU frat party: ‘The most intoxicated’ they had ever been

"On Nov. 3, 2017, the Tallahassee Police Department responded to 1012 Buena Vista Drive … in reference to a death investigation."So begins a charging document in the case of Andrew Coffey, the 20-year-old Florida State University student who was foun...
Published: 01/18/18
In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In St. Petersburg, skeptics sneer at plan to concentrate USF power in Tampa

In the state capitol on Wednesday, lawmakers breezed through the bullet points of a higher education bill. They skimmed past a hot-button proposal to consolidate the University of South Florida System into a single university without a peep of pushba...
Published: 01/18/18
Lithia Springs Elementary gets kids up with standing desks

Lithia Springs Elementary gets kids up with standing desks

VALRICO — Fifth-grade math teacher Melissa Forsythe walked around her Lithia Springs Elementary School classroom on Tuesday with zeal.She stopped at each station and listened with a big smile on her face as her students told stories about their new s...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/21/18
Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough

Five things to know about teacher pay negotiations in Hillsborough

TAMPA — They were hoping to receive between $15 million and $17 million in scheduled pay raises. But the Hillsborough County school district says it can’t afford to give its teachers anywhere near that much, while the teachers say they deserve nothin...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18
Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

Young Pasco teacher faces cancer with support of students

NEW PORT RICHEY — At age 28, things were really shaping up for Joel Santos-Gonzalez. Fulfilling his lifelong dream of becoming a teacher, he had just completed his third year at Gulf Middle School."I always liked to talk to people on an intellectual ...
Published: 01/17/18
Updated: 01/18/18