Tuesday, April 18, 2006
Carmel on the Case: School Board
We've all heard of bullies on the playground. But a local family feels it's being bullied by the miami-dade school board... All because they defended their disabled child. Investigative reporter Carmel Cafiero is On The Case.
WSVN--Christopher Trujillo: "I got balloon. Get a picture of balloon."
Eleven year old Christopher Trujillo is a special needs child.
When he was just four years old he spent nearly five hours on a Miami-Dade school bus.
The driver and aid claimed they drove around lost all that time.
Christopher's parents think he was forgotten - left sitting on the bus in the hot South Florida sun.
Lourdes Trujillo: "The thing is he couldn't talk and tell us what had happened, where he had been because he didn't know how to talk. All he wanted to do was hug us."
His parents say when he finally got to school - his clothes were soaked with sweat and urine and he had had nothing to eat or drink.
Frank Trujillo: "Christopher was either driven around for five hours or he was left for five hours. Either way the school board is still wrong."
Attorney David Brill represented the family in a lawsuit against the Miami-Dade school district.
A jury awarded 50-thousand dollars in damages.
David Brill: "It was never per-se about the money because for a firm and for the parents it's not like 50 thousand dollars is gonna make them rich but it was a moral imperative as well."
Carmel Cafiero: "The school board appealed the verdict and got it overturned - not by challenging the facts of the case, but on a legal technicality."
David Brill: "It turned the tables on the Trujillo family - coming after them for 27 thousand dollars in court costs. I think it is about as morally reprehensible as anything I've seen in my nearly two decades of practice."
To add insult to injury - Lourdes Trujillo has been a Miami-Dade school teacher for 18 years.
Frank Trujillo is a Miami-Dade police sergeant.
And both of Christopher's siblings are also in the Miami-Dade school system.
Frank Trujillo: "I can't see any other reason but for spite."
David Brill: "Other than for spite, there is no legitimate reason. They have plenty of budget money. They really need this money?"
Carmel Cafiero: "But it wasn't until 7 News started asking questions - that the school board dropped its money demand - down to three thousand dollars."
Joe Garcia: "The taxpayers of Miami Dade County shouldn't be the ones who have to foot the bill for one family's pursuit of a lawsuit."
School board spokesman Joe Garcia defends the decision to go after the family for costs.
He says it was a long and expensive litigation and the family did not deserve damages.
Joe Garcia: "What the family is due is our heartfelt apology for a situation that happened on the first day of school and was very very unfortunate."
Meanwhile, the Trujillo family realizes three thousand dollars sure beats 27-thousand.
But even more important, Chrisopher is happy and healthy and getting over his fear of those big - yellow - buses.
If you have a story for Carmel:
Call her in Dade at 305-627-CLUE
Or in Broward at 954-921-CLUE