Wrongly released documents in student’s drowning death show lifeguard ignored warnings

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A lifeguard ignored warnings by three students before discovery of a body at the bottom of a school swimming pool in Chicago, according to documents approved for release by a Chicago judge last week.

Judge Peter Flynn of Cook County had initially banned publication of the documents in the 2017 drowning death of Rosario Israel Gomez. He acted last Wednesday at the request of the Chicago Public Schools after school lawyers said they had mistakenly released the documents to the Better Government Association.

Last Thursday, Flynn lifted the publication ban after receiving written consent from Gomez’s family, according to stories by the BGA and the Chicago Sun-Times.

The BGA had sued to obtain the documents under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.

Rosario, 14, had autism and was unable to swim. He was not given a life jacket. The Chicago Board of Education has agreed to pay $4 million to settle a suit filed by his mother, Yolanda Juarez.

The drowning took place during a “fun day” pool session at Kennedy High School, according to the documents chronicling the school’s investigation. The BGA and the Sun-Times summarized the findings.

The lifeguard told the three students who warned about the body that it was probably a student who was practicing diving and holding his breath. The lifeguard was busy giving swimming instruction at the time.

One of two gym teachers at the pool was working on his laptop computer during the incident. He told school officials he was recording attendance, but school records show he didn’t enter any data into the attendance system until more than a half-hour after Gomez’s body was discovered. He erased his browser history later that day.

The lifeguard finally jumped in about five minutes after the students’ warnings when an aide from another gym class spotted the boy’s body.

The CPS revised safety policies after the incident to ban electronic devices at pools and to eliminate unsupervised pool “fun days.” Aides for special education students have to stay within reaching distance of their students and must obtain water safety certificates.




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