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Sunday, Sep 24, 2017
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Schools improve safety

LAND O' LAKES - The deaths of two special-needs students in Hillsborough County have prompted Pasco County school officials to take a closer look at safety procedures for their students with special needs. During a workshop Tuesday, the Pasco school board will hear a report about efforts to keep students in the exceptional student education program safe and additional actions being considered. "We always have procedures in place, but thought it would be best practices to review what we have," said Melissa Musselwhite, Pasco's director of exceptional student education. She said her department has been working with law enforcement over the past month to make improvements and is also getting input from principals.
The planned workshop comes in the wake of the deaths in Hillsborough that also have school officials there reviewing their procedures. Bella Herrera, a second-grader with a neuromuscular disorder, died in January, one day after a bus ride home during which she had trouble breathing. Neither an aide nor the driver called 911 for help. A federal lawsuit has been filed over her death. Jenny Caballero, an 11-year-old with Down syndrome, drowned in October after wandering away from a gym class at Rodgers Middle School. Five aides have been suspended with pay while the school district investigates. Workshop materials distributed to Pasco school board members indicate the district has taken recent actions to improve safety awareness, including making sure schools identify students who are at risk of wandering or running away. Schools also have developed a search system where staff members immediately check areas of risk, such as bodies of water or highways and intersections, and monitor those areas until the search is complete. Exceptional student education teachers are told to immediately notify administration when a student is missing. An administrator decides when to call 911, though "calling 911 should be an immediate consideration for administrators," a report to board members says. If a teacher realizes a student is in imminent danger, such as the student is not breathing, the teacher is to call 911 and tell an administrator afterward, the report said. That was always the case, Musselwhite said, but officials decided it was worth re-emphasizing. "We wanted to make sure everyone understood that clearly," she said. Already, school administrators were given emergency management training and a sheriff's deputy conducted site visits to assist administrators in identifying safety and emergency concerns.

Reporter Rob Shaw contributed to this article. rblair@tampatrib.com (813) 371-1853 Twitter: @RBlairTBO

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