Stephanie WilkersonI'd like to say I can't believe it happened, but sadly, outrageously we see stories like this too often. This one happened last month in Tampa, Florida, when school bus driver Stephanie Wilkerson, 40, pushed an 8-year-old girl with autism off the bus, fracturing her ankle in the process.
According to the Tampa Bay Times, it happened on the way to school on September 28. When the girl was trying to get off the bus, Wilkerson told her to wait her turn. For some reason this caused the girl to get angry, and she supposedly slapped and pushed the driver. Obviously that's not acceptable behavior, but anyone who works with special needs children -- and any adult really -- needs to know that physically retaliating isn't okay. That's just what Wilkerson did though.
The paper reports that as the girl stopped on one of the stairs, Wilkerson took her foot and used it to kick the girl off the bus. The girl fell, and her ankle was broken in the process. Fortunately someone called an abuse hotline, and the incident was all caught on a surveillance camera installed on the bus, so it wasn't left to go unpunished ... as I fear too many of these incidents do when it comes to children with special needs.
Working with children who have autism isn't always easy; no one says it is. But there's no behavior or incident that ever makes it okay for an adult to physically abuse a child like this. None.
Fortunately, the school district isn't excusing the woman's actions because the girl was violent first. Steve Hegart, school district spokesperson, told the paper, "It doesn't matter what preceded it. That kind of behavior is not acceptable."
Wilkerson was arrested last week for the incident and faces felony charges of aggravated child abuse. I hope she is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. It won't change what happened to this poor little girl, but we have to send a message that treating children -- any children -- in this manner is not okay and won't be tolerated.
Can you imagine this happening to your child?
Image via Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office