New guidelines spring from near-drowning, administrator says

Parents of boy say school reaction not enough
New guidelines spring from near-drowning, administrator says
Surveillance video shows Travonne Allen, 13, was under water for a total of 3 minutes, 19 seconds.

The Sun Prairie School District is working on a written set of administrative guidelines for all teachers, principals and staff after a near-drowning at the city’s high school pool earlier this spring. A district investigation into the March 20 incident found numerous “things that could be improved,” according to the district’s administrator.

Thirteen-year-old Travonne Allen was under water for three minutes and 19 seconds before being rescued by the Sun Prairie High School pool manager. The manager, other teachers and lifeguards were alerted by students that Travonne was under water; the adults did not witness his sinking to the bottom of the pool themselves.

Travonne was engaged in what he called “horseplay” in the deep end with his friends, being pushed in multiple times before the incident occurred when he jumped in on someone and subsequently could not make it back to the surface. He had removed his life vest minutes earlier.

“Yeah, there was negligence on the kids’ part, but they’re kids. They are kids,” said Andrea Allen, Travonne’s mother. “If they were able to be there alone, we wouldn’t need teachers or supervision.”

Travonne’s father, Jackie Musgray, agreed.

“Kids do things they’re not supposed to do,” he said. “That’s why you have teachers. That’s what they’re there for.”

Allen said she was not contacted before the Patrick Marsh Middle School students were bused to the high school for the two-day swimming activity. The district discovered in its internal investigation that it emailed a notice to parents beforehand, but that the school did not have every parent’s email.

VIDEO: Administrator discusses near-drowning at Sun Prairie school

The 130 students were asked about their swimming ability on the first day and encouraged to wear life jackets. The district concluded that was not enough to ensure future safety, so it is proposing a test of every student on their swimming ability at the start of any swim unit in the future.

“It didn’t happen in a formal way, and so part of the issue is it needs to happen in a formal way instead of letting kids self sort who can swim and not,” said District Administrator Tim Culver.

Culver described the activity during the second day of the swim unit, when the near drowning occurred, as without “direct instruction” for students.

Musgray went further after watching the hour class on video tape, calling it a “free for all” with students doing whatever they wanted.

The proposed guidelines state future physical education units using the pool must be instructional in nature and that open swim times cannot last for more than 15 minutes. It also states students will be reminded about pool behavior and water safety before getting in the water.

“They were designing it to be recreational in the sense that it was more of an open-swim concept, as opposed to teaching kids specific basics,” Culver said. “What we’re trying to do is have open swim be a part of the swim lesson, but not the key part of the swim lesson. So, it’s not a pool party. It’s designed to be instructional because the pool is supposed to be a classroom instructional space and not just for doing free swim.”

Two physical education teachers in addition to the pool manager were designated as the lifeguards for the hour-long class, a proper number per state code. However, in apparent violations of state code (172.22 (3)): only one held a rescue tube while all are required to do so; none wore clothing designating they were the lifeguards on duty; and the lifeguard certifications of the two teachers were not on file when a Dane County inspector looked into the incident.

The district acknowledged Tuesday that the teachers had undergone six hours of lifeguard training in December 2011 but that “the paperwork for certification was not properly filed.” Further, in reference to the fact Travonne was not noticed at the bottom of the pool, the district stated that “lifeguards were trained to watch the water surface for signs of a struggling swimmer” and not under water.

The proposed guidelines, which are now open for comment and review by the district’s principals and physical education teachers, will require all P.E. teachers to participate in a basic water safety workshop each year.

“There are safety practices in place, but we didn’t codify it. We didn’t write it down,” Culver said. “We didn’t go through it with a fine-tooth comb and show it to the experts and say, ‘Is this the best to do?’

“There were a lot of good safety practices in place, but this accident triggered us to say we have to make sure this is in writing, so it doesn’t ever happen again.”

Two months after their son’s near-drowning, Travonne’s parents say he is physically doing fine, including plans to re-join the school track team this spring. His doctors have recommended he undergo psychological therapy to deal with the emotional impact of his ordeal. While Musgray and Andrea Allen feel blessed Travonne is alive, the pair has five other kids to raise in the Sun Prairie schools and they want to ensure their future safety.

“We’re not just worried about our kids,” Andrea Allen said. “That could have been anyone’s baby under water.”

They requested a meeting with district officials and received one a couple weeks ago, more than a month and a half after the incident occurred. They were given a copy of the proposed administrative guidelines.

“(The guidelines) are just a rough draft of what they kept repeating to us,” Andrea Allen said. “Twelve little points that should have been in effect from the beginning. I don’t think that’s going to cut it.”

Culver said he is “incredibly empathetic” to Andrea Allen’s situation, but that “the ending to this nightmarish story is a good one.” He expects the administrative guidelines to be approved as they are and to be implemented before the start of the next school year.