It is a parent’s worst nightmare to hear that their child was killed. It is even worse to learn that the death was preventable and that it occurred at one of the only places a child should be guaranteed safety: school.
This was the horrible reality that one mother faced in 2017 when she learned that her autistic son had drowned in a school pool during a scheduled “fun day.” The details of the fatal incident were only recently made public, and they show that through the combined negligence of six school staff members and overly lax school district policies, an unsupervised boy drowned in an overcrowded pool when he probably shouldn’t have been swimming in the first place.
According to news reports, the death occurred in the Chicago Public School system during a fun day in which 70 students were in the pool overseen by six adults, including two gym teachers, a lifeguard, an assistant swim instructor, and two special education assistants. The scene was described as noisy “mayhem.”
The 14-year-old boy had previously failed a swim test, so he should have at least been given a lifejacket, but none was provided. All special ed students were supposed to stay in the shallow end of the pool, and no one seemed to notice the boy moving into the deep end.
Most disturbing of all were the warnings to adults that went ignored. According to the report, three different students approached the lifeguard to warn that a student was underwater and wasn’t surfacing, and the lifeguard dismissed it as “probably just a kid practicing holding his breath.”
One of the gym teachers was on his laptop instead of watching the students. He also ignored a student’s warning. Later, he claimed he had only been taking attendance, but records show that attendance hadn’t been submitted until 30 minutes after the body was found. The teacher also took the precaution of deleting his web browsing history before it could be searched.
The boy’s mother filed a wrongful death claim, which the district settled for $4 million. Some of the more damaging details of the case were unknown even to her until the school’s report was mistakenly released publicly.
Any adult who works with children has a responsibility to keep them safe at all times, especially in a highly structured environment like a school. When they shirk this responsibility, the consequences can be devastating and even fatal.
If you or a loved one was seriously injured (or worse) as the result of dangerous conditions and negligence, please discuss your legal options with an attorney, which may include a premises liability or wrongful death lawsuit.