Florida: Hillsborough County School District ignored ESE issues

At last Tuesday’s school board meeting the Hillsborough County School Board received a letter from school district training Specialist including Corie Holmes who said he was told to ignore issues. The letter documents a lack of resources for exceptional students dating back to the 2007-08 school year.

If you want to see issues being ignored first hand you only have to go to the now infamous video of the Hillsborough County School Board Meeting for February 14, 2012 (at the district website). This would have been the next meeting after Isabella Herrera’s tragic death that began on a school bus and Superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s first opportunity to openly and honestly inform the board and the public and discuss it at a board meeting.

A special needs student, Isabella Herrera died from respiratory distress on January 26, 2012 that began on a school bus. The aide and bus driver failed to call 911 or seek assistance at the pediatric clinic that they were parked in front of. The event went virtually unreported to the public for 9 months during a campaign year when 4 incumbent school board members were trying to get re-elected. The death of Isabella Herrera was only revealed after the death a second special needs student Jenny Caballero. Conceivably the second death of Jenny Caballera would never have occurred had appropriate action taken place after the death of Isabella Herrera. But that didn’t happen.

Typically at each board meeting, the Superintendent is given the opportunity to bring up any important issues. At the February 14, 2012 school board meeting one Elia talks about SAFETY and recounts an entire episode at Bloomingdale High School which she describes as “a bizarre accident” and “This truly was an accident” and “I can’t stress enough that this could have been a lot worse if not for the quick thinking and actions of teacher Melissa Gentile.” But Elia never mentions a word about Isabella’s death.

Here is something even more egregious about this February 14, 2012 Board meeting- it turns out that this is the same Board meeting that Veleria Fabiszak spoke at and warned: “Its about accountability and justice and training…My daughter nearly died at the hands of Hillsborough County School District.” (this occurs at about 1:09:00)

The incident Fabiszak is referring to occurred on February 3, 2011, when Fabiszak said she picked up her daughter Chelsea from school and found she had a broken femur, and urine soaking her entire lower body. Fabiszak says she was shocked to learn no one knew, and therefore never called 911. Fabiszak believes Chelsea could have died that day and she repeatedly spoke out at school board meetings, warning members of outdated education procedures for special needs students.

At the February 14, 2012 school board meeting Board Member Griffin says: “I want to know what is going on…this cannot continue, whatever the situation is, whatever the resolution is, we have not met it…but I want to have some answers on this and I want it within the next week.”

What is particularly disturbing is that if you check the Board Digest for this meeting it shows comments from every Board member EXCEPT April Griffin. It is very disconcerting to see what they chose to put in and what they chose to leave out, both of which suggest an attempt to misdirect.

Note that Elia’s comments about the student at Bloomingdale came just BEFORE Veleria Fabiszak’s comments and Elia would have easily seen Veleria in the audience with her daughter Chelsea and known what Veleria was going to speak about as Veleria had previously appeared and informed the District about this near fatality of her daughter.

How is it that the digest shows Elia’s comments about the student at Bloomingdale at length steering attention to another incident at another school while also deleting any comment from Board member Griffin emphatically stating “I want to know what is going on…this cannot continue”. In fact, the Board Digest ends after Elia’s safety comments and does not record any of the discussion over Ms. Fabiszak’s comments even though the board meeting continued for at least an hour more. Obviously this digest is a joke and does not even deserve to be called a “Digest”; it is designed to mislead and misrepresent.

There is at least one other person present at this board meeting that logically would have known about Isabella Herrera’s death but also failed to disclose it, and that person is the Chief Facilities Officer Cathy Valdes (re transportation). Logically, John Franklin, General Manager of Transportation, would have reported the incident to Cathy Valdes. Furthermore, a week earlier on February 7, 2012 John Franklin, General Manager of Transportation, told the Sheriff’s detective that he would have to get a subpoena to get the Herrera bus video. This typically would have come from and/or in concert with his boss Cathy Valdes. Cathy Valdes would have been reporting to her boss Elia.

We reported last week how, despite a Facilities Division plagued with tragedies and insecure schools, MaryEllen Elia and the School Board instead promoted Cathy Valdes to now be Deputy Superintendent while they fire teachers who have to deal with those inadequate and insecure schools.

Everyone should watch this video and comprehend what is taking place here. How could anyone sit there having full knowledge of the recent death of Isabella on (January 26, 2012) and first misdirect the board to an accident, then ignore a parent warning of her child’s near death, then ignore a Boardmember demanding to know what is going on, and then post a digest that completely misrepresents what just took place.

Superintendent Elia, Chair Olson, and Cathy Valdes would have been sitting there with full knowledge of Isabella’s death pretending that they had nothing to add to the discussion. And Olson, as Chair, would have been in control of the discussion and able to direct/misdirect the Board’s discussion. Some wonder what kind of a person would fail to speak when faced with all of this? But don’t forget that it was also an election year and four incumbent board members were trying to get re-elected and the ramifications for those four. Three of those four are consistent Elia supporters when they vote. Is this why Elia never disclosed the death of Isabella Herrera?

You can just imagine these three exchanging glances as this unfolded before them at the Board meeting and the probable conspiracy to cover up the death of Isabella Herrera. Olson, Elia, and Cathy Valdes had an obligation to Hillsborough County students and residents to say what they knew and they failed to act.