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Education

Hillsborough bus driver charged with pushing girl, 8, off bus

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:14 PM
TAMPA -

A Hillsborough County school bus driver has been arrested after she used her foot to push an 8-year-old special education girl off a school bus and broke the student's ankle, according to the Tampa Police Department.

Stephanie Wilkerson, 40, 12701 Four Oaks Road, Tampa, was arrested about 2 p.m. Thursday and charged with aggravated child abuse. She was arrested without incident at the Hillsborough County Public Schools Transportation facility, 9455 Harney Road, Tampa.

She is being held without bail.

About 7:40 a.m. Sept. 28, Wilkerson was driving special education students to Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School, 3111 W. Tampa Bay Blvd., police said.

The girl, who is autistic, wanted to get off the bus, but Wilkerson told her to wait her turn, police said. The girl then slapped and pushed the driver, police said.

Wilkerson then let the girl off the bus, but as the student stopped on the steps, she pushed her off the bus with her foot, police said.

"She placed her foot on her back and pushed her with her foot," said Andrea Davis, a Tampa police spokeswoman.

The girl fell and fractured a bone in her ankle, police said.

Wilkerson was removed from her job as a driver on Oct. 1, said Linda Cobbe, a spokeswoman for the district. She has still been working at the transportation department in other capacities, however, Cobbe added.

It is likely the school board will be asked at its next meeting to suspend Wilkerson without pay, Cobbe said.

"We are horrified that one of our drivers would treat a child as she allegedly has," Cobbe said.

After-school piano teacher Anthony Laudato said he can't believe a bus driver could do such a thing.

"There's a big difference when you're talking about an 8-year-old and an autistic 8-year-old," he said. "You have to have special skills to be able to deal with a child with some disabilities."

"That's day one on training. They tell you, 'Don't put your hands on the kids. Don't make decisions based on emotion.'"

Wilkerson, who was hired in August 2008 by the school district, earns $11.20 an hour as a bus driver, or about $15,000 annually.

The case was initially investigated by the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office Child Protective Investigation team. On Monday, the sheriff's office referred the case to Tampa police, Davis said.

Sheriff's investigators gave Tampa police its case, Davis said.

"We do our portion (of the investigation) for probable cause for the arrest," Davis said.

A camera on the bus recorded the incident, but the district said it will not be released.

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