District hired convicted bus aide despite his illiteracy

(WFLA)

LAND O’ LAKES, Fla. (WFLA) – When former Pasco County transportation assistant James Lambert agreed to a plea deal Wednesday, he revealed in court he was illiterate.

“I can’t read but I can write,” Lambert said.

“He’s has an IQ of 68; he’s been learning disabled his entire life,” Lambert’s attorney Matthew Kindel said. Kindel questioned whether Lambert should’ve been in the position he was in.

In June 2014 Lambert was caught on video slapping 10-year-old student Jeffery Lamb. Jeffery has autism.

WFLA went to the Pasco County School District to find out what it takes to get a job as a transportation assistant, as Lambert was. The job requires staff to work with students who have special needs and autism.

According to the Pasco County School District website, being a bus aide requires two qualifications: Functional literacy and the ability to communication effectively. Lambert doesn’t meet these requirements, which were written in 1993, five years before he was hired.

“They go through extensive training. They do four days of training before they are on the road with their own bus,” Pasco School District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said. “They get training in working with special needs children. There is an extensive PowerPoint that explains all the disabilities and gives him strategies for getting to know the children and managing children.”

WFLA asked what kind of training someone who can’t read or write would receive.

“If that happened, I can’t speak to when he was hired, what kind of training there was since he’d been on the job for a while,” Cobbe said.

“You need someone who is going to be caring compassionate, find someone who has a good understanding of how to teach me my communication skills,” said Leanne Simon, an autism expert with Behavioral Consulting of Tampa Bay.

“That is why that training component is so important so you have a different skill that you can do to help minimize that problem behavior rather than resorting to some type of frustration and response,” Simon said.

WFLA pressed Cobbe to find out what changes have been made to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

“I can’t assure parents of anything like that,” Cobbe said. “I couldn’t assure anyone of anything. We are dealing with human beings. All we can do is hope that we got through the right process.”

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