BARTOW, Fla. — School bus drivers and aides in the state are now required to be certified in CPR and first aid as a result of the death of a special-needs student in 2018.
As previously reported, on Feb. 28, 2018, a school bus driver contacted police about a girl who was having a medical issue on the bus. Surveillance video showed the 14-year-old having a seizure, which lasted almost three minutes. When the bus aide noticed, she rushed over to the student and the driver pulled the bus over. They called dispatch and 911, but neither the aide nor driver knew what to do to help the student. Emergency responders arrived nearly 20 minutes later and gave her CPR. She died in the hospital.
The bus driver, aide, and their supervisor told investigators, as previously reported, that they were not trained in CPR, but a spokesperson for Polk County Public Schools said that they had received basic CPR training and recently went through a refresher course.
The Florida Department of Education passed an amendment that contains the new requirement on Wednesday to rule 6A-3.0121. That rule requires that school bus operators and aides be given written instructions about any special conditions or non-medical care that a student may need while aboard a school bus.
The amendment maintains those requirements, in addition to mandating certified CPR and first aid training along with other required pre-service training. The training must be given to school bus drivers and aides before they transport students, and drivers and aides need to receive refresher in-service training in these areas at least biennially. All drivers and aides must be provided the training by Nov. 1, 2020.
Sen. Kelli Stargel’s office requested the rule change to include the training, according to the State Department of Education’s website.
The parents of the girl who died, identified as Terissa Gautney by WTSP, shared their daughter’s story with the state Department of Education board members during the meeting. They said, according to the news source, that Terissa used a special wheelchair and headrest, and that the chair had become unsecure, causing her head to tilt in a way that closed her airway. Terissa’s father, David Gautney, told the board that if Terissa had been taken out of her chair and given CPR, that would have provided enough time before emergency responders arrived.
Terissa’s parents have been calling for the training to be required since their daughter passed away, according to FOX 13 News. Gautney and Denise Williams have been pushing for what they refer to as the Terissa Joy Act, which also calls for new radio systems to be installed on every school bus so drivers and aides could contact emergency personnel directly, without having to go through the school district’s dispatch center. (Gautney and Williams told the board that part of the problem is that the driver was contacting dispatchers instead of 911, WTSP reports.)
"Terissa fought every day of her life just to be and [it's hard] to have to sit there and watch that school bus video and [see] no one help her," Gautney told FOX 13 News.
Rob Davis, assistant superintendent for support services at Polk County Public Schools, stated on the district’s Facebook page that it supports the decision and looks forward to implementing the training requirement. The initial training costs may be about $75,000, Davis noted, but also pointed out that “ … no cost is too great, and we are committed to investing the proper resources to make this a reality. The safety of our students and staff members is the highest priority.”
Davis added in the Facebook post that the district began conducting “hands only” CPR training for all drivers and aides during its back-to-school in-service training last summer. Additionally, new bus drivers and aides who are hired throughout the year will also receive this training.
Davis also said that Polk County Public Schools is upgrading the radio system on its buses, and expects the new system to be in place on all buses before the beginning of the new school year. With the new system, drivers and aides will no longer need to use cell phones to call 911 or to go through the district’s dispatchers to request help.
The agreement for the Motorola Solutions radio system was established in April, according to a news release from the district.