Lawsuit Filed: Child Falls Through Classroom Ceiling

Plant City, FL – Keith and Diane Coker, parents of a student who attended the Robinson Elementary School, are suing both the school and the Hillsborough County School Board. Four years prior the Coker’s son Jacob fell through a suspended ceiling and suffered a traumatic head injury. The lawsuit is claiming negligent supervision, training and retention against the district, and gross negligence against the boy’s teacher Elsa Leon.

The lawsuit alleges on February 5, 2009 Jacob scaled a cabinet, slid aside a ceiling tile, and climbed into the suspended ceiling of a classroom. While this was happening Leon was assembling the rest of the children for lunch. She proceeded with the other students, knowingly leaving Jacob behind with two non-certified teaching assistants. When the ceiling collapsed, Jacob fell head-first into the floor, and sustained a severe head injury.

Before the accident, Jacob was coping with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). Jacob had been part of the exceptional education program in the school. In Florida, children who have special learning needs are called exceptional students. The purpose of exceptional student education (ESE) is to help each child with progress in school by utilizing individualized learning and instruction.

ADHD is a behavioral disorder, more common in boys than girls. The condition is associated with inattentiveness, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. Obsessive-compulsive disorder is an anxiety disorder in which people have fanatical thoughts, feelings, ideas, or behaviors that make them feel compulsively driven to do something or act out particular repetitive rituals.

This is not the first time the district has faced legal action. Members of the Hillsborough County school board are considering changes to its exceptional education department after the deaths last year of two other ESE students, and several allegations of inappropriate conduct. The ESE programs have been under tremendous scrutiny and laden with lawsuits.

On January 25, 2012 Isabella Herrera, a special needs second-grader, stopped breathing and died. The girl’s family filed a lawsuit in federal court against the Hillsborough School district.

In October, a 10-year-old with Down syndrome at Rodgers Middle School, Jenny Caballero, drowned in a pond on the grounds after wandering away from a gym class. Although no criminal charges were filed, two aides were fired and the principal and assistant principal were demoted.

What do you think about special needs programs in school? Do you think the teacher in the case of Jacob Coker should be held directly responsible? Or do you think the schools are understaffed and the teachers are overwhelmed with a large number of special needs children?

[Image via Shutterstock]