About Me

My photo
Nazareth, Pa., United States

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Delayed Drowning Case at Liberty High School To Go Forward

In an Opinion and Order released today, Judge Joel Slomsky of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has ruled that a an unusual "dry" or "secondary" drowning case against both Bethlehem Area School District (BASD) and Liberty High School P.E. teacher Carlton Rodgers will move forward. He denied motions for summary judgment to a civil rights filed by Mica Spady, the mother of 15 year-old Juanya Spady, who had recently transferred to the school. A non-swimmer, he died shortly after a swimming P.E. class.

The lawsuit was filed by Allentown Attorneys Rick Orloski and Steve Ameche.

At this time of year, children sometimes encounter difficulties in local pools and swallow large amounts of chlorinated water. But after they are rescued, about 1-2% of them are still at risk of drowning? It's called delayed or dry drowning, It happens when someone, while thrashing in the water, swallows large amounts of water. This can cause air passages to spasm and the lungs to fill up with fluid, suffocating the victim. It's what happened to Juanya Spady, a 15 year old Liberty High School sophomore who experts say drowned about an hour after he was out of the school pool. The Bethlehem School District has denied, it's at fault, but Judge Slomsky has ruled there's enough "undisputed facts" in this "undeniably tragic" case to send it to a jury.

Spady attended a P.E. class in which swimming was the activity of the day. He was told to go with the other non-swimmers to the shallow end of the pool while a Rodgers instructed the rest of the class on swimming moves from a deck. Because grades depend on class participation, Spady decided to do some "gutter grabbing," i.e. make his way around the perimeter of the pool by using his hands to keep him afloat. Occasionally, he'd let go, sink to the bottom and bounce back up.

His fun ended when he bumped into a group of swimmers and lost his grip. He was down a long time, but finally made his way back to the surface. Spady told Rodgers he was feeling ill, and was told to take a break. Rodgers recalls telling Spady to go to the nurse or sit out the remainder of the class. But some students contradict this, saying that Spady was ordered back into the pool. Others testified that Rodgers graded students on class participation. They also noticed that, after the "gutter grabbing" incident, Spady was not himself.

After P.E., Spady went to English class. But ten minutes in, his head hit the desk behind him, his eyes rolled into the back of his head, and a pink, frothy substance began coming from his nose and mouth. His teacher sent students to get help, and a nurse and police officer arrived a few minutes later. CPR was tried. Mouth to mouth. An AED was used. Oxygen was administered. No pulse. Though he was administered a total of 17 shocks, he died.

Dr. Isadore Mihalikis, who performed the autopsy, called it an unexplained seizure. But flamboyant forensic pathologist Dr. Cyril Wecht concluded this was a case of dry drowning caused by a toxic reaction to the swimming pool chlorine. In addition to the pink and frothy discharge, Dr. Wecht noted a high glucose level and epinephrine, which accompanies these delayed drownings.

Dr. Alison Osinski, an aquatics expert, agrees. She also adds that it was negligent for the school district to enroll Spady in a swim class without any regard to his skill level, comparing it to forcing a student to take calculus without first going through pre-algebra. She states the teacher should have been in swimming gear and the student lifeguard on hand should not have been lying on the bleachers. Finally, she advises there should have been a "buddy system" in place, and that non-swimmers should be equipped with floatation devices.

Updated 8:55 pm: The decision can be found here


Anonymous said...

While parents should place a high priority on "drown-proofing" their kids, the school's PE swimming requirement is absurd and dangerous.

Anonymous said...

It's about time this comes out My daughter was ordered into the pool when she was a sophmore, and she was told sink or swim if You sink You fail swim You pass, sfter contacting the school administration We were told it didn't happen and We were free to put Her in another school..I hope the BASD loses and Th ebest thing that could but won't happen is the district gets shut down...the sad part is a child had to die....there is no replacing that......

Bernie O'Hare said...

I understand why you choose to remain anonymous, but you should call Att'y Orloski with this info. 610.433.2363. It could save someone's life.

Anonymous said...

Sounds like this "innocent" kid was clowning around and contributed to his own demise by not staying in the shallow end of the pool where he belonged. If the school was negligent of anything, it was to allow this kind of reckless behavior in their pool. Sad ending to a preventable situation.

Bernie O'Hare said...

Gee, wonder who this could be. But not too much.

Anonymous said...

@8:13 Sounds like you are speaking out of your rear end, and have no grasp whatsoever of the facts in this case. Education is a marvelous thing.

Yes, it was preventable - his death that is. But you seem intent on trying to place the blame on the apparent victim.

Anonymous said...

Great, all this means is my ridiculous BASD taxes will go even higher when they pay off the lawsuit.

The District has never seen a tax hike it didn't like. Becoming really bad and is actually driving folks out of the District due to BASD taxes.

School Districts like this are breaking the backs of hime9ownwers, especially those on fixed incomes.

monkey momma said...

A non swimmer should not even be in the shallow end. The "buddy" system and flotation devices are not enough to keep non swimmers safe, so I am surprised an expert recommended this. A high school gym class is not an appropriate time to expect anyone to learn how to swim. You have to assume that kids will show off, be distracted and generally raise hell.

I would like to know who insures the BASD. Did the insurer know about this risk?

Pools are expensive to maintain. My guess is, that should be the next thing axed from the BASD budget.

I'm so sorry for Spady's family and his friends. My condolences to them all. The high visibility of this court case, regardless of the outcome, has probably already saved a life. If there's a pool at your child's school, and that child cannot swim, you need to make sure the child and the school know that he/she is NOT PERMITTED to get in the water, under any circumstance.