03/07/14 Public Safety
One of two school buses that vanished in August 2012 from Hillsborough County has resurfaced — found shuttling football fans in Gainesville.
The buses were taken from outside Miles Elementary in North Tampa and were last known to be headed north. Authorities issued public pleas to help find them. At long last, one has been towed back to Tampa.
Police found it being used to transport fans to the Nov. 2 Florida/Georgia football rivalry....
TAMPA — A Hillsborough County public school teacher was arrested Thursday and charged with felony child neglect after telling police she knew about her sons' marijuana use, according to an arrest affidavit.
Police searched Kelley Fraley's home, where she lives with her two sons, ages 15 and 18. Police found marijuana and drug paraphernalia in both sons' rooms and in the garage, according to the arrest report....
TAMPA — Longtime special education aide Michelle Brown is back at work after being cleared of allegations she mistreated children in her last classroom assignment at Buckhorn Elementary School.
Brown, 49, was assigned to Wilson Elementary School in Plant City on Jan. 15, according to school district records.
While at Buckhorn, she was accused four times in 2013 of either handling children improperly or joking that she had. She was reprimanded for the joke but cleared of the other allegations....
If it seems a lot of eyes are on transportation and exceptional student education in Hillsborough County, they are.
Bus driver trainers are alleging they're told to hide mistakes. Critics say the district did not do what it promised to make special-needs students safer.
While investigations are ongoing, Superintendent MaryEllen Elia told the School Board Friday her staff will issue a comprehensive report on both complex issues....
Responding to questions from the School Board, Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia provided statistics on the eve of Spring Break that show students are getting more psychological services, support workers are being trained and disciplinary actions are becoming fewer.
First, psychological services: Elia's report says the ratio of psychologists to students was 1-to-1,222 in the 2007-2008 school year before the district adopted austerity measures to avoid teacher layoffs in the recession. Today it's 1-to-1,082 students. Behavior coaches, increased behavioral consultations and neuro-psychological assessments have been added, Elia wrote in a report distributed to the board on Friday....
For $38,500, School Bus Consultants is supposed to take a look under the hood, so to speak, at the Hillsborough County school district's transportation department.
But just where they should look and who they can talk to are now up for debate.
There is talk, among some members of the School Board, that top brass in the department are leading the consultant around.
And there is concern, on the part of Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, that some board members are bending consultant Tom Platt's ear....
TAMPA — New Tampa will soon be home to a K-8 public school, the third in Hillsborough County.
A letter went home to students Wednesday announcing the merger of Turner Elementary and Bartels Middle, two neighboring schools in Live Oak Preserve.
The Hillsborough County School District already has two successful K-8 models in the Rampello Downtown Partnership School across the street from school district headquarters; and Roland Park, a K-8 International Baccalaureate-themed school in the Westshore area....
TAMPA — A group that wants to open a charter school at MacDill Air Force Base has dropped its request, but says it will try again.
Florida Charter Educational Foundation, a nonprofit organization that works closely with for-profit Charter Schools USA of Fort Lauderdale, has been at odds with the Hillsborough school district since December, when the staff and School Board rejected its proposal to open a K-8 school on the base....
Fellow members of the Hillsborough County School Board are beginning to weigh in on April Griffin's idea to hold her own focus group meetings to discuss safety issues on the school buses.
Candy Olson says a true focus group -- small, quiet and controlled without a lot of grandstanding or emotion -- is the best way to get at the issues. She suggested that Griffin, who just announced she is seeking a third term on the board, might be taking action that rightfully should be taken by the superintendent. Or, she added, it could be "a campaign stunt."...
TAMPA — Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin is taking the unusual step of organizing her own discussion sessions with bus drivers after being turned away from a focus group meeting where drivers aired concerns.
Griffin said she doesn't trust the school district, which has organized eight focus group sessions to deal with the issues being raised.
"I've said it before and I'll say it again: I don't trust the process," Griffin said after she was turned away Wednesday from a session at Sickles High School. "I think there is more of a need to control information than to straighten out the issues."...
Turned away from a focus group meeting Wednesday morning at Sickles High School, Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin wants to organize her own focus group meetings to discuss issues surrounding training and safety for school bus drivers and students.
TAMPA — A Hillsborough County school district clerk, charged with stalking a high school principal, was recently charged with another misdemeanor count of stalking the principal's wife, who later drowned in the family's swimming pool.
Tracey Seenath, 40, pleaded not guilty to both counts.
She was accused in September of sending thousands of harassing text messages and emails to David Sheppard, who was then principal of Freedom High School. The two had a relationship while they worked together at Wharton High, which Sheppard ended in December 2011, according to court records....
TAMPA — Irene Davis has driven school buses for Hillsborough County for almost 20 years. But these days she doubts the district's commitment to safety for special-needs students.
Drivers do not get enough training in how to transport children with medical needs, she said. Drivers with even less training are asked to fill in for those who normally transport exceptional student education, or ESE, students....
TAMPA — By some estimates, the odds are staggering: Close to half of all middle and high school students will experience some form of sexual harassment in a single school year.
Yet, despite those reports, and a federal investigation that dates to at least 2009, Hillsborough County school district leaders have been low-key about the issue.
There was little to no publicity when the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights initiated its compliance review in 2009; or in 2011, when that agency entered into a resolution agreement that called for dozens of changes in Hillsborough....
TAMPA — Jonathan Hage sat on Gov. Rick Scott's education transition team. He and his company, Charter Schools USA, have given more than $100,000 to Scott's Let's Get To Work fund and the state Republican Party.
Now it appears it was Scott — or someone very close to him — who suggested Charter Schools USA run a school at MacDill Air Force Base.
Meeting minutes obtained by the Hillsborough County School District, which opposes the school, describe the origin of a plan that is at the heart of a battle before the Florida Board of Education....