Perdido 03

Perdido 03

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Parents Wanted MaryEllen Elia Out After Deaths Of Two Special Needs Students

A group of parents is asking for the resignation of Hillsborough schools superintendent MaryEllen Elia and school board member Candy Olson following the deaths of two special needs students. 
A protest is planned for 4 p.m. today at the school board meeting.
School board members are also questioning the district’s policies, theTampa Bay Times reports, after a lawsuit was filed over the January death of 7-year-old Bella Herrera. 
Herrera had a neuromuscular disorder and had trouble breathing while riding a school bus. She was unresponsive by the time she got to a hospital and died the next day. 
In October, 11-year-old Jennifer Caballero drowned in a retention pond at Rogers Middle School in Riverview. Caballero had Down syndrome and slipped away from teachers and adult supervisors during a gym class. 
Two Facebook pages have been set up in response to the deaths.
Hillsborough school board member Stacy White says he plans to ask Elia for a top-to-bottom review of the district’s exceptional student education program. From the Times: 
“I was intending to wait until our next business meeting to have what I call a robust conversation,” said board member Stacy White. “But clearly I will not be able to wait that long.” 
…White wants to go farther. He plans to ask superintendent MaryEllen Elia to examine the entire exceptional student education (ESE) system and consider changes in its leadership. 
“My expectation is that the superintendent will look at that department,” he said. If not, “then I will explore the idea of an outside investigation.” 
In addition, a special needs student drowned at a September back-to-school party hosted by Pepin Academy, a Hillsborough County charter school.

For all the community outrage over circumstances that contributed to the death of 7-year-old special-needs student Isabella Herrera, consider this: If her parents hadn't filed a federal lawsuit over the way her case was handled, the public still wouldn't know there was ever a problem. 
There wouldn't be a task force to study ongoing problems with how issues with special-needs students are addressed. 
School bus drivers would continue to follow the 21-year-old policy of calling dispatchers instead of 911 in an emergency such as the one that led to Isabella's death. 
Six of seven members of the Hillsborough County School Board would still be in the dark about what happened that January day on the bus taking Isabella home from classes. 
Life would go on just always. Except, of course, for Isabella and her family.
She had a neuromuscular disease that made her neck muscles weak. She was supposed to have her head back as she sat in her wheelchair, but she tilted forward and it blocked her airway. When it was discovered, the driver called dispatch and the aide on board called Isabella's mother. 
By the time Lisa Herrera arrived and dialed 911 herself, her daughter was blue and unresponsive. She was pronounced dead the next day. 
But Superintendent MaryEllen Elia didn't make the news public. She relied on a sheriff's office investigation that she said found no criminal wrongdoing, and appeared to let it go at that. During an interview last week, I asked why she didn't release the news. She fell back on the sheriff's report. 
If you're the parent of a special-needs student, though, you would have liked to know there was a problem. I should say, is a problem. There have been three other issues with special-needs kids just this year, including the recent death of a student with Down syndrome who wandered away unnoticed and drowned. 
The Herrera family filed its lawsuit a few days after that — about nine months after Isabella died. Now we have a task force, and a policy change allowing bus drivers to call 911 if the situation warrants. As school board Vice Chairwoman April Griffin told The Tampa Tribune though, "It goes way, way deeper than that. But I think it's a start." 
This would be a better start: Expand the task force to probe the circumstances of why it took a lawsuit to bring this to a head. This isn't a witch hunt, but there has to be accountability. 
What happened in the aftermath of this tragedy was at best a case of bureaucratic bungling. 
When a child dies, a leader doesn't fall back on official reports and policy excuses. A leader gets to the bottom of things and then lets everyone know what went wrong so it doesn't happen again. A leader asks uncomfortable questions about the culture in a school system that values policy and procedure over good judgment and common sense. 
That didn't happen here. And if not for a lawsuit, no one would have known.

Did the Board of Regents investigate these deaths and MaryEllen Elia's response to them? 

Did they ask her anything about them?

If so, how did she respond?

Did she take responsibility for the "bureaucratic bungling," as the Tampa Bay columnist Joe Henderson called it, or did she again wash her hands of the matter as she did in the interview with Henderson?

Is this the kind of leader the Board of Regents wants to run New York State schools?


  1. She was terminated as a superintendent in Florida and gets to work for New York State. If a teacher was terminated in Florida do you think that he or she would have a shot at getting a teaching job in New York State?

  2. MariaEllen Elia is a deadly choice.

  3. Though Weingrew are to be criticized for their usual lapdog behavior, this woman's appointment is an oncoming train wreck for the so-called reformers, and will bite them in the ass. It suggests that they're having trouble getting A-List so-called reformers to take on Long Island and Westchester parents.

    May this woman leave with her barbed tail between her legs...

  4. I predict a Dolores Umbridge moment for her.

  5. MariaEllen Elia is the new Cathie Black.

  6. It's insane how the deformers , won't give up or think we will give up . This woman's history needs to get to the parents and teachers ASAP . We need to send Her , Meryl and Coumo them far away from ny

  7. Ms Elia...the people of New York will outlast you...we will defeat you.

  8. Who ran the search?