Special Needs Training
Parents Sue School District Over 7-year-old Daughter’s Death
TAMPA (FOX 13) –
The Hillsborough County School District is being sued over the death of a 7-year-old special needs student.
Lisa and Dennis Herrera of Riverview are bringing a lawsuit against Sessums Elementary after their daughter, Isabella, died after choking during a school bus ride in January.
The lawsuit alleges that Isabella was not properly positioned in her wheelchair, and that the school district “violated her civil rights.” It accuses the school of failing to monitor her and provide her with medical care after the incident, which happened Jan. 25.
The parents say disturbing surveillance video taken from that day proves it.
According to their claims, school officials aboard the bus never even called 911 – instead they called a supervisor. Eventually, Lisa Herrera was contacted, showed up and called 911.
Lisa and Dennis Herrera spoke to the media Thursday afternoon. Lisa Herrera wears a necklace with a picture of her daughter Bella, of the last school picture she ever took. In the locket, are some of Bella’s ashes.
Her parents say she wanted to ride the bus, she wanted to be like all the other kids.
“She wanted the ability to be independent. She was 7 years old. And we let her,” she said.
Bella rode a special needs bus. But on the bus ride home, on January 25th, things quickly turned into an emergency. From a surveillance camera aboard the bus, you can see Bella’s head continually slump over, as the bus hits bumps.
Within a few minutes she appears to be in distress. She opens her mouth like she’s gasping for air.
At first, the aide doesn’t see her. But within 40 seconds, the aide walks to the back of the bus, and she alerts the driver that there’s a problem.
“If you can, pull over somewhere,” the aide says.
The aide tells the driver to call the school’s dispatch center, while the aide herself calls Bella’s mom
But Bella’s parents can’t understand why they didn’t call 911 themselves, and why they didn’t perform CPR.
The driver tries to use the radio on the bus, but it doesn’t work. Then she uses her cell phone to call the dispatch center.
But the person she’s speaking to on the phone seems to question more about the broken radio.
“Hey Mary Ellen, this is Tonia. We have a child that can’t breathe. We need an ambulance,” the driver says.
The driver then answers a question by the person on the other end of the phone. “Do we have a new radio on this bus? I don’t know.”
Bella’s mom is then seen getting on the bus. She rushes to her daughter and grabs her. She places her on a seat and begins CPR, then calls 911.
“I need an ambulance. My daughter is not breathing,” she says.
Bella died the next day at the hospital. Her family blames the district for not properly training those who care for special needs children.
“We rely on these people to care for our kids. We trust them. We put them in their care and we pray every day and trust everyday they are going to come home safe. And that day, she did not come home safe.”
The Herreras say they’re fighting to make changes.
“The system is broken. It’s all broken. Nobody really cares,” said Bella’s dad Dennis Herrera.
The Herreras are suing the district for violation of her civil rights. They say the district failed to properly position her in her wheelchair and failed to monitor her during the bus ride. They also say the district failed to provide medical care when Isabella started choking.