School District approves settlement in student's death

Tampa, FL -- A huge legal settlement was approved Tuesday at the Hillsborough County School Board stemming from the death of a special needs student.

Isabella Herrera, 7, died after riding her school bus home in Jan. 25, 2012.

For the most part, her family has let their lawyers do the talking, but today, her mother Lisa Herrera spoke to the Board and leveled some blistering criticism.

"This has been a very long and painful process," Herrera said through tears, her voice occasionally cracking.

Lisa Herrera described the pain and frustration she and her family have suffered since Bella's death more than two years ago.

"We do not feel there has been justice for Bella. And we do not feel there has been real progress made to ensure this tragedy does not happen again," she said.

Video taken on Jan. 25, 2012 showed Bella riding her school bus home, when she started having trouble breathing.

An aide called the seven-year-old's mother. The driver, following district protocol at the time, called dispatch, not 911.

"I hope it is her face that you see when making these critical decisions," Herrera told board members, challenging them to do better.

Bella's case has already prompted changes in policy that now allow drivers to call 911 immediately, but just yesterday Board members met with school bus operators who said they still need much more than that.

"Some bus drivers indicated that there were things they felt hadn't been done," said Hillsborough Schools Superintendent MaryEllen Elia, "They hadn't had training."

This past December, the family of another special needs student, Jennifer Caballero, also settled a lawsuit with the Board for at least $500,000. Caballero had drowned in a pond behind her middle school.

On Tuesday, board members approved a settlement with the Herrera family for $800,000.

"Be the example for districts all over that these kids matter. Their lives have meaning. Because Bella meant something to us," said Herrera.

The legal settlement still has to be approved by the Hillsborough County Probate Court, but that is considered more of a formality than was today's hearing.


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