Disciplinary action issued against Rodgers Middle School staff

9:13 PM, Jan 9, 2013   |    comments
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TAMPA, Florida -- The Hillsborough School District completed its investigation into the death of a middle school student with Down Syndrome. She died while under the care of teacher's aides.

While the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office did not file any criminal charges, it did find that the child's supervision was inadequate.

Jennifer Caballero's death, along with other incidents, forced the school district to review its staff training and protocol related to special needs students. But today the focus was on the chain of events leading up to Jennifer's death, and who the school district says is responsible.

"It's been emotionally trying. We as educators are appalled this occurred," said Hillsborough School Superintendent MaryEllen Elia.

In October, 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero wandered away from the gym while under the supervision of four teacher's aides at Rodgers Middle School. She drowned in a nearby retention pond. Three months and three investigations later, Elia handed down her recommendations for disciplinary action.

Elia said, "It became clear the incident occurred at the school site, and the school site is where we need to look at people responsible for the school."

Elia recommended terminating a teacher's aide and an attendant directly responsible for supervising Jennifer.

During the investigation, another aide resigned and one aide retired. Another aide is not being disciplined because the superintendent said she was on a scheduled lunch break.

The school's assistant principal has been demoted back to teaching and reassigned. The school principal has been demoted to assistant principal and also reassigned.

Elia said the assistant principal, Sean Livingston, did not follow up on complaints made against the special needs aides. She said,"The aides are held accountable for their inattentiveness, and Mr. Livingston for not following up in the required timely way."

And Elia said the principal, Sharon Tumicki, also failed to do her job. "Our investigation reflects she was aware of the problems with the aides and did not take necessary action in a timely way," she said.

Also, the superintendent issued a letter of caution to Corr Elementary, the school Jennifer previously attended, for not communicating with Rodgers more clearly about Jennifer's needs.

The school board will have to approve the superintendent's recommendation. They will take the issue up for a vote at Tuesday's school board meeting.

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