School bus drivers and aides at Polk County Public Schools in Bartow, FL, are now required to be certified in CPR and first aid as a result of the death of a special-needs student in 2018.
On Feb. 28, 2018, a school bus driver contacted police about a girl who was having a medical issue on the bus. Surveillance video showed the 14-year-old having a seizure, which lasted almost three minutes. When the bus aide noticed, she rushed over to the student and the driver pulled the bus over. They called dispatch and 911, but neither the aide nor driver knew what to do to help the student. Emergency responders arrived nearly 20 minutes later and gave her CPR. She died in the hospital.
The Florida Department of Education passed an amendment that contains the new requirement on to rule 6A-3.0121. That rule requires that school bus operators and aides be given written instructions about any special conditions or non-medical care that a student may need while aboard a school bus.
The amendment maintains those requirements, in addition to mandating certified CPR and first aid training along with other required pre-service training. The training must be given to school bus drivers and aides before they transport students, and drivers and aides need to receive refresher in-service training in these areas at least biennially. All drivers and aides must be provided the training by Nov. 1, 2020.
The parents of the girl who died, identified as Terissa Gautney by WTSP, shared their daughter’s story with the state Department of Education board members during the meeting. Terissa’s parents have been calling for the training to be required since their daughter passed away, according to FOX 13 News. Gautney and Denise Williams have also been pushing for what they refer to as the Terissa Joy Act, which also calls for new radio systems to be installed on every school bus so drivers and aides could contact emergency personnel directly, without having to go through the school district’s dispatch center.
Polk County Public Schools is also upgrading the radio system on its buses, and expects the new system to be in place on all buses before the beginning of the new school year. With the new system, drivers and aides will no longer need to use cell phones to call 911 or to go through the district’s dispatchers to request help.