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Rules Are Changing for Hillsborough Bus Drivers

More than a year after the death of Riverview’s Bella Herrera, 7, the school district is rolling out a new procedure manual that allows bus drivers to call 911 in the event of a medical emergency if they “wish.”

The rules of the road for Hillsborough County school bus drivers are changing.

The School Board will be presented with a new procedure manual for drivers and assistants when it meets Tuesday, Feb. 19. The new manual includes a number of updates related to everything from bus inspections and stop procedures to what to do in the case of a medical emergency.

It’s that last part that’s likely to catch the attention of parents in Riverview and beyond. The new manual spells out a policy that allows bus drivers to notify 911 in the event of a medical emergency. The policy, however, doesn’t demand the driver call 911. It reads:

“If Bus Driver/Bus Attendant River has a personal cell phone and wishes to use the cell phone, contact 911 by your personal cell phone.”

Bella’s Story

A bus driver’s failure to call 911 is one of the issues raised after the death of 7-year-old Bella Herrera in January 2012.

Herrera, who had muscular dystrophy, died after she was found choking on a Hillsborough County school bus.

The Sessums Elementary School second-grader's parents filed a lawsuit against the school district, saying the girl, who was bound to a wheelchair, was not properly restrained to keep her head from moving while on the bus. As a result, she began choking.

The crisis was exacerbated when neither the bus aide nor bus driver called 911. Instead, the aide called the child's mother, Lisa Herrera, while the driver contacted the bus dispatch center when they saw the girl was in distress.

Herrera’s death and other incidents related to special-needs students sparked protests against the district.

The new manual was created, said Stephen Hegarty, out of a need to update it to match changes that have been made over the years and also to reflect changes in bus driver contracts.

“We recently conducted a complete review of all our policies and procedures having to do with school buses,” Hegarty said.

Emergency Procedures Spelled Out

The new policy manual highlights specific actions drivers and assistants are expected to take in the case of a medical emergency. One other notable point in the manual is an order for drivers and assistants to not call a child’s parents in the event of an emergency.

“Do not call the parents in case of emergency; this is the responsibility of the School Principal,” the manual states.

Drivers are also ordered to contact bus dispatch to report the medical emergency.

The new manual will be presented to the board when it meets Feb. 19 at 3 p.m. at 901 E. Kennedy Blvd.

To view the full manual, visit the district’s website. The full agenda for Tuesday’s meeting can be found online, as well.

Do you think the policy goes far enough? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

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