Wesley Chapel teacher's aide abused student with special needs, deputies say

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A Wesley Chapel High School teacher's aide is facing child abuse charges after he was accused of getting violent with a student with special needs during a ride home from school.

Surveillance cameras on a Pasco County school bus recorded Derek Simpson, 35, handling a situation involving a child who, according to the district, is autistic and non-verbal.

After boarding the bus, Simpson can be heard telling the student, "don't touch me." He can then be seen trying to restrain the student's hands.

After several minutes, Simpson appears to force the student's head down and toward the window. This went on for more than 20 minutes until the student gets off the bus.

"It's distressing that we have someone that's trusted to work with vulnerable students, who would abuse a student. We will not tolerate it," said Linda Cobbe, a spokesperson for the district. "The only time you put your hands on a student is to protect others or the student himself. So it doesn't appear to me that anything he did was warranted."

According to Cobbe, Simpson is an instructional aide who was only riding the bus so he could care for that particular student at the family's request.

Cobbe said it's currently unclear to the district why the student was flailing his arms, but investigators don't believe that was enough for Simpson to react the way he did.

He's now facing child abuse charges.

A mother from Wesley Chapel High School, who also has a son with special needs in middle school, said situations like this hit home for her.

"As a parent of a special needs student, I think what has happened is absolutely horrible, especially for a non-verbal child. Children with special needs do not always understand the first time you tell them something, what it is you're requesting of them," said Alicia Smith. "So for any adult to act that way, especially someone who supposedly has the proper training in dealing with special needs students, I think it's absolutely abominable for them to react that way." 

Cobbe said the child suffered some bruising. A FOX 13 crew knocked on Simpson's door but no one answered.

Simpson, who has been with the district since 2017 and has worked at Wesley Chapel High School the entire time, is currently suspended. The school board will determine what's next for him.