TAMPA, Fla. — Emergency response procedures for special-needs students are improving at Hillsborough County Public Schools following the deaths of two students in 2012.
As previously reported, Isabella "Bella" Herrera died in January 2012, a day after suffering respiratory distress on a school bus. Herrera had a neuromuscular disorder and had trouble holding her head up. She started choking, and neither the aide nor the driver called 911, according to a newspaper article written at the time. Instead, they tried to have a dispatch operator or transportation supervisor call 911.
In October of that year, 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero, who had Down syndrome, drowned in a pond behind one of the district’s middle schools after walking away from a physical education class.
After these incidents, district Superintendent MaryEllen Elia asked a work group to look into safety issues that impact these students, and adjustments would be made to district policies or procedures as necessary.
Now, The Tampa Tribune reports that Hillsborough County Public Schools bus drivers are required to call 911 first when there’s a medical emergency.
A transportation medical form has been created for the bus drivers with a note in bold type that they should pull over and call 911 immediately if a medically fragile student is having an emergency.
“We stress it every time we meet with them,” Renee Rybicki, a special-education resource teacher and liaison to the transportation department, told The Tampa Tribune.
(The form also identifies medical concerns and equipment necessary for medically fragile students.)
Additionally, bus drivers also receive more training in handling students with disabilities, and they go through a new debriefing process when a medically fragile student has an issue on a school bus.
A school board workshop was held in late March, and material was available on the Hillsborough County Public Schools website about the changes made in the transportation department to improve transporting students with special needs and handling emergencies involving these students.
For example, information from a PowerPoint presentation indicates that if a medical emergency occurs, the exceptional student education district resource teacher/transportation liasion and/or school health services personnel debriefs with the driver/rider within 24 to 48 hours of the event. The purpose is to identify what went well and what may need to be adjusted, as well as any additional training that may be needed.
Also, a new database was created to help identify students who are medically fragile and are receiving specialized transportation, and bus drivers are provided with a passenger list for each route that identifies students who have special needs. A photo is attached for visual identification, and the list is updated anytime a student is added to a route.
For more information about the transportation changes, click here.