Image Description: Photograph of woman with white skin and brown hair looking down while standing at a podium. She is wearing a green dress. The words "Being safe while at school is the most basic, fundamental expectation of"

I spoke at Hillsborough County School District’s board meeting on September 9, 2014 to address safety concerns for students with disabilities after Tamya Johson, a nine year old student on the autism spectrum was left sleeping on her school bus. The day after this meeting, September 10, Hillsborough School Bus Crash sends 21 people to the hospital.


Mrs Elia, Board members, I’ve come to speak to you today to offer my help and the community’s help to do whatever we need to do to ensure all students are safe in our schools.

Being safe while at school is the most basic, fundamental expectation of both the children who attend and the parents who send them. But for students with disabilities and their families in this district that isn’t a reality right now.

In just 10 months in 2012, Isabella Herrera, Jenny Caballero, and Jessie Shillingford, three minority students with disabilities died under the district’s care.

We’ve been assured that the ESE and Transportation advisory panels have taken measures so tragedies like this are prevented.

But, I’m very concerned about the reports from the transportation department last Spring and what occurred last Friday when 9 year old Tamya Johnson was left sleeping on her school bus. Tamya, like Isabella, Jessie, and Jenny, is a minority student with a disability. Luckily, Tamya is ok, but it calls into question the security measures that are currently in place.

What needs to be done to prevent this from happening to another child ?

I mourned the loss, excuse me, I mourned the loss of these young lives and grieved for their families, but I couldn’t imagine, really, what Bella, Jessie , and Jenny went through as they fought to live. I couldn’t imagine the intense hole left in their families’ hearts. But in March of this year, my son, Henry, came as close to death as you can. While my husband and I watched for an hour and a half while Henry and 18 doctors and nurses fought for him to stay alive.

Because he’s alive, I can come here today and speak to you and beg you to do something to make sure that all the protocols are in place. It’s my duty to come here today and implore you to take action regarding the responsibilities we have to ensure that our children are safe and that our district complies with both the letter and spirit of the ADA and IDEA .

My son is alive today because of the protocols All Children’s Hospital has in place and the fidelity of the implementation of those protocols by the staff.

If All Children’s staff had not followed the hospital’s protocol, Henry would not be alive today. Period. If they hadn’t been committed to doing everything in their power, thinking outside the box, believing in him, he would not be alive.

We have a great resource right in our backyard, we can reach out to them and see what their training entails.

With any organization, the attitudes and the culture is established from the top down. It’s so important for every employee to know how valued their work is, how essential their role is in keeping our children safe.

And again, I offer whatever assistance you need, I, I’ll do anything to help make sure tragedies like this never happen again. I know that we can keep all of our children safe.