Teacher, Principal Not Liable for Child’s Death

     HOUSTON (CN) – A principal and teacher won’t face claims as individuals for the second drowning of a Houston I.S.D. student in a two-month period, a federal judge ruled.
     Ana Rodriguez was 9 years old when she drowned in her school natatorium during a month-long summer enrichment program for students with disabilities, according to a complaint filed by her mother and her estate.
     Ana had a hearing impairment, cognitive impairments and a seizure disorder, the complaint says. The summer program, provided by the City of Houston and its school district, took place at the girl’s school, T.H. Rogers Elementary, where, according to the complaint, she had attended class during the school year with other hearing-impaired students.
     The complaint says that the school was aware of Ana’s limitations and knew that she suffered from seizures.
     The complaint says that “Ana had seizure symptoms on an almost monthly basis since school started in August of 2007 and would stare into space and drool, similar to the events at the swimming pool on June 26, 2008.”
     The drowning of Houston I.S.D. student Vincent Agwuoke, just two months earlier had prompted a school district representative to tell the local Channel 11 station “that significant changes were made,” and that the school board planned “to change policies, procedures and practices, training and supervision so as to avoid another drowning,” according to the complaint.
     Nonetheless, the complaint says the natatorium did not have surveillance cameras or lifeguards on the day Ana drowned, and the child’s up-to-date consent form was nowhere to be found.
     The complaint indicates that the adults and children at the scene gave conflicting reports to the school district and Child Protective Services, and it cites multiple examples of faulty emergency equipment, adult inattentiveness and substandard safety procedures.
     Teacher Crystal Evans told the school district she had been within five feet of Ana when she had a seizure and fell in the pool. Evans claims she saw the girl fall and leapt in after her and that the child was only underwater for 30 to 60 seconds, according to the complaint.
     The complaint later refers to statements from nurse, Angela Allen, who at the scene noticed two indicators that the child was under for more than a minute: the water would not come out of her nose and she had no pulse. The complaint refers to additional reports from EMS and hospital staff that also suggest the child was in the water for more than a minute.
     Tomasa Rodriguez, Ana’s mother and representative of the child’s estate, filed suit against the City of Houston; Houston Independent School District; superintendent Terry Grier; board of trustees president Greg Myers; T.H. Rogers Elementary School principal Dave Muzyka; and teacher Crystal Evans.
     Rodriguez and the estate sued for violations of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Rehabilitation Act and the Americans with Disabilities Act. There were additional state-law claims that the plaintiffs since withdrew.
     U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal granted a motion for summary judgment based on qualified immunity that cleared Muzyka and Evans of all claims in their individual capacities.
     Rosenthal found that Rodriguez and the estate failed to demonstrate that the principal and teacher violated the child’s constitutional right as individuals, and she further noted that “[t]he ADA and Rehabilitation Act do not provide for damages against individuals,” prompting him to dismiss the claims.
     The judge’s 13-page order does not touch on claims against Muzyka and Evans in their official capacities. Rosenthal previously dismissed the City of Houston on May 14, 2010.

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