Superintendent Announces Disciplinary Actions After Tragic Student Death At Rodgers

By  Tamas Mondovics

Hillsborough County Public Schools Superintendent, MaryEllen Elia, announced earlier this month a number of disciplinary recommendations to the School Board on several personnel matters related to Rodgers Middle School.

The recommendations are the result of two thorough investigations and reports into the incident that occurred on October 22, 2012, resulting in the drowning death of special needs student Jenny Caballero.

The initial investigation was conducted by the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office, and was followed by an investigation by the district’s Office of Professional Standards (OPS).

The Sheriff’s Office investigation resulted in no criminal charges, but the Child Protective Investigative Division verified findings of inadequate supervision, school officials said.

Elia presented her recommendations to the School Board, which upheld and approved the termination of aides Terrance Sowa and Patricia Tobin.

Board members also backed Elia’s decision to demote Principal Sharon Tumicki to the last position she successfully held – a position as an assistant principal, and Assistant Principal Shawn Livingston to a teaching position.

The votes in the matter of Tumicki and Livingston passed 6-1, with board member Susan Valdes dissenting.

Since the news of his demotion, Livingston, who has spent eight years with Hillsborough County Schools and was Teacher of the Year in 2007 and Educator of the Year in 2008,  hired an attorney to help him get reinstated with the district to keep his job and clear his name.

A “letter of caution” was also sent to Corr Elementary School, the school Cabellero attended before Rodgers.

School officials said that the OPS investigation determined that there was not adequate communication between the schools, which may have had no effect on the tragic outcome, but the communication was inadequate nonetheless.

Elia said that the district already has made changes and mapped out a multi-faceted plan for improving service to special education students some of which can be accomplished in the short-term, and some that are more long-term.

“We are moving forward with the implementation of our improvement plan, but it also is necessary to hold people accountable,” said Superintendent Elia. “The accountability must be fair, yet commensurate with the depths of the tragedy,” she added.