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Crime & Courts

Parents sue Hillsborough schools, say driver kicked girl off bus

BY Erin Kourkounis
Tribune staff

Published:   |   Updated: October 22, 2013 at 06:25 AM

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TAMPA – The parents of an autistic child who say their daughter was injured when she was kicked off a Hillsborough County school bus by the driver last year are suing the school district.

Curtis and Margaret Johnson seek at least $15,000 in damages, claiming the district has failed to train school bus drivers and other staff on how to handle students with disabilities.

They say the fall caused their daughter, Kyinesha Johnson, to fracture her ankle, which left her unable to walk for two months.

The lawsuit states the district violated the girl's rights under the 14th Amendment, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act.

According to the lawsuit, filed Oct. 9 in Hillsborough County Circuit Court, driver Stephanie Wilkerson's actions “were so egregious and so outrageous that they shock the conscience.”

Attempts to reach the couple's attorneys, Martin Palmer and Danielle Underkoffler of the Palmer Law Firm in Tampa, were unsuccessful Monday.

The incident happened the morning of Sept. 28, 2012, when Wilkerson was driving special-education students to Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School.

Kyinesha wanted to get off the bus when they arrived at the school, but Wilkerson told her to wait her turn, Tampa police investigators said. The girl then slapped and pushed Wilkerson, police said.

Wilkerson let Kyinesha, then 8, off the bus, but she stopped on the steps, refusing to get off. Kyinesha, who has developmental delays, was having trouble following directions because of the disability, the lawsuit states. Wilkerson then reportedly pushed the girl off the bus with her foot.

Wilkerson was suspended and then fired from her job. She was arrested nearly a month later and charged with aggravated child abuse, a first-degree felony. She is scheduled to appear in court March 24.

Citing other incidents involving Hillsborough special-education students, including the deaths of two students last year, the lawsuit says there is a “pattern, practice and custom failing to ensure the safety and well-being of ESE students.”

In January 2012, Isabella Herrera, a second-grader who had a neuromuscular disorder, died the day after suffering a medical emergency on a bus on the way home from Sessums Elementary. The girl's family filed a lawsuit against the school district in federal court, but it was dismissed by U.S. District Judge James Moody Jr. in March.

In October 2012, Jenny Caballero, a seventh-grader with Down syndrome, drowned in a pond on the grounds of Rodgers Middle School after wandering away from a gym class.

School district spokesman Stephen Hegarty said the district will not comment on pending litigation.

ekourkounis@tampatrib.com

(813)259-7999

Twitter: @ErinKTBO

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