Connecticut Town Settles P.E. Drowning Case for $1.5M

The town of East Hartford, Conn., has agreed to pay a $1.5 million settlement to the family of 15-year-old Marcum Asiamah, a physical education student who drowned in the local high school pool last year. According to The Hartford Courant, the town's insurer will pay $1 million and the town will pay a $500,000 deductible (which will reportedly be taken from the board of education's budget).

More than a year after the Jan. 11, 2012, incident, few details have emerged about Asiamah's death. In December, East Hartford Police Chief Mark Sirois said that criminal charges at one time were pending against a teacher but were never filed. Police closed the case, and the superintendent, school board, mayor and prosecutor's office weren't talking - even when asked whether Asiamah's death had changed the way East Hartford approaches swimming safety, citing the pending litigation by the boy's family.

Asiamah's family, in a notice of intent to sue the town, contended that his injuries "were the result of negligence," according to The Courant, and town council chairman Richard Kehoe called the settlement "a fair resolution."

The incident at East Hartford High was one of two P.E.-related drowning deaths in Connecticut last year. On Nov. 21, 14-year-old Manchester High School freshman Malvrick Donkor - who, like Asiamah, was from Ghana - was found in the deep end of the school's pool approximately 17 minutes after he disappeared from the water's surface. According to published reports, a surveillance camera showed Donkor climbing down a ladder into the deep end. Students noticed Donkor's body after class ended, and P.E. teacher Thayer Redman jumped in and pulled the boy out of the pool; Donkor later died at a local hospital. Redman was placed on administrative leave, the pool was closed for nearly a month and school officials have removed the P.E. swimming unit indefinitely.

In the wake of both tragedies, Connecticut State Rep. Stephen D. Dargan introduced legislation that would establish a uniform policy regarding school pool safety, "so as to reduce the loss of life or injury related to swimming at public schools." "We want our young children and high school students in the safest environments possible," the Democrat told The Courant. "They should not be dying in our pools."

An article in the February issue of AB will explore how the Connecticut tragedies have placed a renewed emphasis on pool staffing and safety. As Bob Pratt, a veteran lifeguard and lifeguard trainer who also is director of education for the Lansing, Mich.-based drowning-awareness organization Great Lakes Surf Rescue Project, told AB: "It is not an uncommon occurrence to have drownings at school facilities. The unfortunate situation is that many school districts don't believe that they need to have a dedicated lifeguard if the class teacher has also been certified. They think that person can hold a dual role, but that person really can't."

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