Hernando paraprofessional suspended, slapped autistic student's hand

7:26 PM, Dec 3, 2012   |    comments
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Brooksville, Florida- A Hernando school paraprofessional is suspended for two days and has accepted a transfer for slapping a student's hand. 

In a letter to the school district, Charles Giarratana says he was trying to prevent another special needs student from getting hurt. 

He did not report the incident; another teacher did who witnessed it. 

Hernando's school superintendent says this is not a serious incident, but rules are rules and adults are to keep their hands to themselves.

"It's not an acceptable practice. There are other ways to deal with a youngster other than slapping their hand away," says Superintendent Bryan Blavatt.

Despite the circumstances, Blavatt says paraprofessional Giarratana had to be written up. 

"This is someone else's child. We have to adhere to protocols established," he said.

Blavatt explained that Giarratana, a paraprofessional at Moton Elementary, was guiding a wheel chair bound student back to class while holding the hand of an autistic child. 

In a district letter, Giarratana wrote the autistic child pushed the wheel chair "wheels lifting off the ground."

He admitted to instinctively slapping the boy's hand but says "It was not hard, but it made a sound."

Danny Frazier, a Brooksville resident, says, "Everything is blown out of proportion."

Giarratana indicated his training at the high school level did not cover dealing with a non-verbal student. He agreed his actions were "inappropriate" and agreed to be transferred to Central High School. 

"He will get additional training," Blavatt says.

Additional training is what a work group established by Hillsborough's School Superintendent is calling for to help improve the care of students with special needs.

Jeff Eakins, the Director of Hillsborough's Federal Programs says, "We felt like training was the initial area that we saw. We need to have some mandated courses that brings a standardization across the district."

Hillsborough superintendent MaryEllen Elia established the work group after the parents of Isabella Herrera filed a federal lawsuit against the district. They say their daughter death is a result of her wheel chair not being properly secured on the bus.

Before Isabella's death Jennifer Caballero, a middle school student with Down syndrome, managed to walk out of her school gym and drowned in a retention pond on campus.

"We need to get this done. What we have to do is uncover everything; look at what we can to put in place the very best procedures, the best training for our adults so they have complete clarity..."

The work group's draft includes improving safety and emergency procedures, training of bus drivers and aides and staffing. The Hillsborough school board will receive the first list of recommendations next Tuesday.

School district officials say procedures will go into effect next school year. 

Hernando's superintendent says one solution is funding. Superintendent Blavatt says more federal and state funding is needed for higher salaries to help attract qualified workers.

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