Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Parents of autistic girl kicked off bus sue Hillsborough schools

TAMPA — One year after school bus driver Stephanie Wilkerson was accused of kicking an 8-year-old autistic girl down a flight of bus stairs, the girl's parents are suing the Hillsborough County school district and School Board.

Kyinesha Johnson broke her ankle in the fall and couldn't walk for nearly two months, her parents say. In a lawsuit filed in Hillsborough Circuit Court last week, Curtis and Margaret Johnson blame a lack of training and supervision of the district's special-needs employees.

They list other incidents that have plagued the county's exceptional student education program, including the 2012 deaths of 7-year-old Isabella Herrera, who had a neuromuscular disorder and died after she stopped breathing on a school bus, and Jennifer Caballero, an 11-year-old with Down syndrome who wandered away from her gym class at Rodgers Middle School in Riverview and drowned in a pond.

"The school board and school district engaged in an ongoing pattern, practice and custom of failing to ensure the safety and well-being of ESE students," the civil complaint says. Wilkerson's actions were "egregious" and "shock the conscience," it says. The Johnsons are seeking damages of at least $15,000.

On Sept. 28, 2012, Wilkerson urged the 8-year-old girl to get off the bus, but Kyinesha was having trouble following directions because of her disability, the suit says. She just stood in the stairwell. Her pause was captured on the bus' surveillance video, released by prosecutors in March.

The video shows Wilkerson pushing the girl, causing her to fall to the ground outside Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School in Tampa. At the hospital, a doctor said the girl had a sprained ankle.

However, a few days later, the girl complained of pain and refused to walk. A different doctor said she had fractured her ankle.

The lawsuit says that Kyinesha was unable to walk for nearly two months. She either used a wheelchair or crawled.

Wilkerson was immediately suspended, then fired. She was also charged with aggravated child abuse.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty declined to comment this week because of the open litigation. But in the past, he has called Wilkerson's actions "completely unacceptable." Also, the district has contended it is not responsible for what it considers an "intentional act."

A school district attorney has cited a state law that says the 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."

The school district has not formally replied to the complaint.

Wilkerson's criminal trial is scheduled to begin March 24.

Times staff writer Marlene Sokol contributed to this report. Jessica Vander Velde can be reached at or (813) 226-3433.

Parents of autistic girl kicked off bus sue Hillsborough schools 10/16/13 [Last modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 11:44pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Bucs' Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson kneel during national anthem


    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings, two days after President Donald Trump made critical remarks about NFL …

    Bucs receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson both kneeled during the national anthem in protest before Sunday's game at the Vikings. [LOREN ELLIOTT | Times]
  2. Man dead, 4-year-old girl critically injured in Clearwater Beach boating crash


    A man was killed and a 4-year-old girl is in critical condition late Saturday after their personal watercraft collided with a boat in the Intracoastal Waterway near Clearwater Beach just before 5 p.m.

  3. 'If anyone can hear us … help.' Puerto Rico's mayors describe 'horror in the streets'


    SAN JUAN, PUERTO RICO - In the northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, the floodwaters reached more than 10 feet. Stranded residents screamed "save me, save me," using the lights in their cellphones to help rescue teams find them in the darkness, the town's mayor said.

  4. My AP Top 25 ballot: FSU out, USF, Florida Gators back in


    Florida State coach Jimbo Fisher still thinks he can have a good team, as I wrote in today's Tampa Bay Times. Maybe he's right.

  5. Forecast: Scattered thunderstorms in Tampa Bay; Maria could affect Carolinas


    Scattered thunderstorms will threaten the Tampa Bay area Sunday, but most of the area will see sunshine.

    Scattered thunderstorms threaten Tampa Bay on Sunday. [Courtesy 10News WTSP]