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Friday, Jun 22, 2018
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Hillsborough schools wrestle with making buses safe for disabled students

TAMPA — Bus drivers now call 911 first when there’s a medical emergency, receive more training in handling students with disabilities and go through a new debriefing process when a medically fragile student has an issue on a school bus.

Hillsborough County School Board member April Griffin said she’s glad to hear about the changes in transportation department procedures but wants the district to make sure they are consistent across all departments.

Griffin said in a workshop Tuesday the standard procedure across the district should be for 911 to be the first phone call employees make if a disabled student has an emergency on a bus or at school. She distributed to board members an email detailing one family’s concern that a school district nurse was instructed to first call the front office at Wilson Middle School, not 911, if their son had a medical issue.

“It’s not consistent with what we’ve been saying about call 911,” said Griffin, who said she wants a discussion on the topic to be added to next week’s board meeting agenda.

Tuesday’s workshop was held as an outside consultant conducts a review of the transportation department and as the district’s Office of Professional Standards investigates complaints brought up by four transportation training specialists.

During the workshop, the board heard an update on improvements the district has made to ensure the most significantly disabled students are taken care of on school buses.

Changes that have been put into place so far include the creation of a new form for school 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,” said Renee Rybicki, a special education resource teacher and liaison to the transportation department.

In January 2012, Isabella Herrera, a second-grader with a neuromuscular disorder, died a day after having a medical emergency on a bus on the way home from Sessums Elementary. Neither the driver nor the aide called 911 as the bus pulled off the side of the road.

Rybicki fills one of two liaison positions created as a result of the task force. There is also a new debriefing process with drivers and bus riders when a serious issue happens, and drivers who transport medically fragile students go through extra, mandatory training.

After the presentation, board members spent an hour and a half asking questions and discussing the changes.

“This is a wonderful shift from where we were and seems to be ongoing,” board member Doretha Edgecomb said. “It is evident you have been very thorough, anticipating what needs to be done.”

Board member Candy Olson suggested the district, which has a shortage of bus drivers, consider increasing the pay for drivers of red alert students.

“We have a lot of driver turnover,” Olson said. “It seems to me this is almost a specialized kind of bus driver within transportation.”

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this story reported incorrectly the source of a comment from an email regarding medical emergency calls at Wilson Middle School. The comment, according to the email, came from a school district nurse and not a nurse assigned to the middle school.

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Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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