Driver Kicks Autistic Girl Off Schoolbus, Literally

A Florida school bus driver, Stephanie Wilkerson, has been arrested for literally kicking an autistic girl off her bus.

Yes, the driver actually used her foot to apply force to an 8-year-old student as she was going down the bus’s stairs. The child fell and fractured her ankle. The incident, which was recorded in a surveillance camera, occurred on September 28 after the bus pulled up at Tampa Bay Boulevard Elementary School.

As the Tampa Bay Times says, before the incident, the child was trying to get off the bus and Wilkerson told her to wait her turn. The child reportedly slapped and pushed the driver.

As school district spokesperson Scott Hegarty emphasizes, “It doesn’t matter what preceded [Wilkerson kicking the child]. That kind of behavior is not acceptable.”

Bus Driver Faces Felony Charge

Someone from the school contacted the Florida Abuse Hotline on October 2. Detectives from the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office child abuse division undertook an investigation before passing the case to the Tampa Police Department. On October 25, Wilkerson was arrested at the Hillsborough County Public Schools Transportation facility and held in jail without bail. She now faces a felony charge of aggravated child abuse. The Hillsborough School District has put Wilkerson on paid leave.

According to the Tampa Bay Times, Wilkerson had previously been arrested in Florida in 1996, on charges of petty theft and otaining property with a worthless check. While state records show that she has a valid drivers license allowing her to drive a school bus, she had had her license suspended four times since November 2009, for not paying traffic fines and for lapses in insurance. She had been hired in 2008 by the Hillsborough School District and had not had any altercations with students, nor had there been concerns about her driving.

As Hegarty said in words that are at least a bit alarming to parents of children with disabilities like myself, “To be a bus driver, you need to have a good, safe driving record,” Hegarty said. “It doesn’t mean it has to be spotless.”

School Bus Drivers Have Extra Responsibilities When Driving Kids With Disabilities

As if Wilkerson’s kicking an autistic student was not already deeply troubling, Hegarty’s statement about drivers’ records as not having to be “spotless” is less than reassuring to me as a parent of an autistic child and one who is only minimally verbal and therefore unable to tell what might or might not have happened on the school bus.

Like thousands of parents across the U.S., I entrust my son daily to the school bus driver and the bus matron or aide who assists students on the bus (it’s not clear if there was such an aide on the bus Wilkerson was driving). My son attends a county autism center and spends over an hour plus on the bus to travel both to and from school as a number of other children are picked up and, and on the return trip dropped off, in many different towns.

The bus driver and aide indeed have the well-being and safety of my son and several children with disabilities (some with potentially severe behavior issues) in their hands. To say we appreciate them is an understatement.  But we also expect and must insist that drivers and aides have adequate training about interacting for children with disabilities.

While transportation for students with disabilities is mandated under the Individuals With Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), actual policies for transporting students with disabilities differ from state to state. As one example,  the California Department of Education’s Special Education Transportation Guidelines underscore how important the role of bus drivers is, even saying that transportation personnel and staff must be included in discussions and even school meetings. In addition, procedures are to be “developed for communication …when the pupil exhibits severe behavioral difficulties.” Such oversight of Wilkerson by the school district was apparently lacking.

Of course, the 8-year-old autistic girl should not have slapped and pushed Wilkerson; the child’s teachers and others need to teach her to better communicate and manage her own behaviors. But for a school bus driver to physically attack a child, with disabilities or without, is simply inexcusable.

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Past Member
Past Member 2 years ago

The blog is good enough I again n again read this. Driving School

Tamara r Pearlman

This is a mind blower to me. Literally kicking an 8 year old, autistic child off a school bus is unacceptable. Yes, the child was lashing out towards the driver; however one must understand the world of autism and understand that these children's minds work vastly differently than a "normal" student's mind.
This driver is awaiting felony charges currently. What astounds me is that she has been previously arrested for fraud and had her driver's license suspended 4 times!!! Now how does that make for a bus driver one would want to put their child's health and safety in the hands of??
The time for change is now. We need people involved with our schools and students treated as they deserve to be. I'm not stating that there are not children who deserve discipline on a bus; however a bit of sensitivity training prior to allowing an adult to drive a school bus is absolutely needed!!

Helga G.
Helga Ganguly5 years ago

Hitler lives in all these people.

Helga G.
Helga Ganguly5 years ago

Hitler lives in all these people.

cassandra Yinger
Cassandra Yinger5 years ago

Abuse of mentally challenged children by school and bus officials must stop! I have a cousin who is about like this. She can become slightly physical when she doesn't understand--you deal with it! It wouldn't occur to me to hurt her. These children require patience. if you don't have it, you don't belong near kids. The extent to which this happens and is overlooked is inexcusable. The thought that our austistic & Down syndrome children are in danger from people who should never be working with kids is unforgivable. An even worse story I just read was an autistic boy being strangled by a school bus aid while the female bus driver laughed & said he would be a different color when he gets home--he'll be rasberry. He was left with neck injuries & traumatized. Neither of those workers was fired, just reassigned!

Sheri J.
Sheri J5 years ago

Bus driving children is one of the toughest and stressful jobs out there. This bus driver should have controlled her temper, you never hit anyone child or an adult when you're working or at home. Serves her right for being arrested. She should also take anger management. She should not work around children again.

June Lacy
June Lacy5 years ago


natalie n.
natalie n5 years ago

bus drivers of all people need to learn to be better behaved and patient, since many kids lives are in their hands. this is an unfortunate incident but it shows that many out there may not understand or be interested in understanding the different kinds of people they come across every day.

Helle H.
Helle H5 years ago

The busdriver had a license to drive. What she had done before has absolutely nothing to do with children, so why mention that.
Before hiring a busdriver they should make sure, the person is fit to take care of children with special needs.

Teresa Wlosowicz
Teresa W5 years ago

very sad