John Franklin, the general manager of Hillsborough County’s transportation department resigned April 22, 2014. Franklin became manager in 2007 and helped Hillsborough County Public School (HCPS) save millions of dollars by reorganizing the transportation department.
John Franklin’s deposition in the lawsuit brought by the family of 7 year old Isabella Hererra can be read here. Isabella died on January 26, 2012, a day after choking on a Hillsborough County School bus. Bella, a 7 year old student at Sessums Elementary, drove her power wheelchair onto her Hillsborough County School bus at 2:07 pm. Once on the bus, Isabella, who had a neuromuscular disorder, relied on an aide who was supposed to be trained to position her wheelchair with her head tilted back to allow her to breathe. “They were supposed to be trained by physical therapists at the school to slightly tilt her chair so her head would not bobble,” says Isabella’s mother, Lisa Herrera.
Isabella’s chair wasn’t secured properly for her ride home, thus causing her airway to be blocked. During the ride, an aide noticed Bella’s head was down and that she was not responding to questions. She told the driver to pull over and called Isabella’s mother on her cell phone. After repeated attempts to reach dispatch via radio, the bus driver used her cell phone to call her supervisor. When Isabella’s mother arrived nine minutes later, her daughter was unresponsive and blue. Her mother was the first and only person to call 911, nine minutes after the aide noted Bella was in respiratory distress. Lisa Herrera took her daughter from her chair looked to see if anything was blocking her airway and started performing CPR. Neither the aide on the bus nor the bus driver were trained in or attempted CPR. (The bus driver had taken a CPR course in 6th grade according to her deposition.) The ambulance arrived and the paramedics attempted CPR and used defibrillators but Bella was unresponsive. Bella was then transported to the hospital where she was pronounced dead the next day. A report was never filed by the district. Neither the aide or the driver were disciplined or reprimanded as the district said they were following protocol.
The video of the bus ride can be seen here http://archive.wtsp.com/video/default.aspx?bctid=1940001332001. It is excruciatingly difficult to watch, but necessary to understand what Isabella went through before dying as a direct result of lack of training and working equipment. To watch this video and try to comprehend how any person would believe that it was unnecessary to file a report is impossible.
In superintendent MaryEllen Elia’s phone message to HCPS employees she says, “Unfortunately, there are forces at play inside and outside of our district that are intent on causing dissension and pressures, and making our jobs more difficult. That has led good people to choose to leave our district to pursue other opportunities.”