School District Cleared on Drowning of Deaf Girl | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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School District Cleared on Drowning of Deaf Girl

HOUSTON (CN) - Weeks after clearing the Houston Independent School District on a teen's drowning death, a federal judge nixed claims over the unrelated drowning of a 9-year-old deaf girl in the same district.

Ana Rodriguez drowned in the natatorium at T.H. Rogers Elementary on June 26, 2008. She had been enrolled in a month-long summer enrichment program for hearing-impaired students, according to the complaint.

Rodriguez had severe hearing loss, cognitive impairments and a seizure disorder. As in previous summers that Rodriguez participated in the enrichment program, her mother signed off on the regular swimming that the program offers.

Crystal Evans, a physical education teacher, told the school district she had been within 5 feet of Rodriguez when the girl had a seizure and fell in the pool.

Evans claimed that she watched Rodriguez fall in face first, and that the girl had been underwater for just 30 to 60 seconds before she pulled her out.

Several children who also witnessed the tragic drowning gave contradicting testimony.

Some said Rodriguez had been under water for several minutes, and that Evans did not notice immediately because she had been chatting with another teacher.

In her federal complaint, Tomasa Rodriguez, Ana's mother and the representative of her estate, took aim at the school district's faulty emergency equipment, adult inattentiveness and substandard safety procedures.

U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal had previously dismissed claims against the city of Houston, Evans and the school principal.

As the final defendant, the school district faced claims that it violated Ana's constitutional rights, the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Rosenthal granted it summary judgment Wednesday.

"It is tragic that the safety measures HISD put in place failed to prevent the drowning," Rosenthal wrote. "But it is not evidence of intentional discrimination that HISD's safety measures were negligently carried out."

The ruling comes on the heels of another grant of summary judgment that Rosenthal issued to the school district over the death of 17-year-old Vincent Agwuoke, a senior who drowned at Westside High School in April 2008.

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