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Statement from Director of Education John Malloy on Investigation into Drowning of Jeremiah Perry

Wednesday, August 16, 2017
Categories: News Releases

As we have already indicated, an investigation into last month’s tragic drowning of Jeremiah Perry in Algonquin Park is currently being conducted by the Office of the Chief Coroner and Ontario Provincial Police.  Of course, we are doing everything possible to support this important investigation.  In an effort to examine our own processes, the Toronto District School Board has retained a highly-experienced and respected investigation firm to conduct a detailed review of this incident. This investigation is focused on interviewing students and staff to gain a better understanding of what occurred both prior to and during the trip, particularly as it relates to pre-trip swim testing.  Our investigation is not yet complete; however I want to share with you some of our initial findings. 

Before I go into some of those findings, I want to share with you that this morning I visited with Jeremiah’s family to update them on our ongoing investigation. Understandably, they have been searching for answers since their son’s death and we’ve been intent on getting answers to them as quickly as possible.  We remain firmly committed in our support for Jeremiah’s family and our thoughts and hearts continue to be with them.

As we have said from the beginning, the TDSB’s expectation is that all students on any water-based field trip will have passed the required swim tests. The internal approval forms for this specific trip were very clear that students must pass a Canoe Tripping swim test at a third-party facility at a lake in order to participate in the trip. Any student who did not pass the Canoe Tripping swim test at that facility was to be given an additional opportunity to pass the test, with swim lessons and one-on-one coaching in the C.W. Jefferys pool. The approval form was very clear and set out that students who did not to pass either the canoe trip/swim test or the pool test were not allowed to go on the canoe trip.

While our investigation is continuing, we felt it was important to share some of our preliminary findings to date with the family and the public:
TDSB procedures requires that students must pass the Canoe Tripping Swim Test as set out by the Ontario Physical and Health Education Association (OPHEA) guidelines in order to go on the trip;
Documentation from the swim test indicates that Jeremiah did not pass the test;
Of the 32 students who went on the trip, 30 were recorded as taking the swim test. Of the 30, fifteen students failed the swim test and fifteen are recorded as passing;
Based on the information we have to date, no further swim tests or instruction was provided or offered following the swim test. 

I am deeply troubled by these findings and that such a critical safety requirement in our procedures appears not to have been followed. In sharing this news with Jeremiah’s family earlier today, I said to them, and I say publicly now, on behalf of the TDSB, I offer our most sincere apology and regret.    I also want to apologize to the families of the other students who went on the trip even though they did not pass the required swim test. 

As noted, the core of our investigation revolves around how this might have happened, and our immediate actions have been focused on what the TDSB can do to put in place more stringent measures for future field trips. I have indicated to Jeremiah’s parents that we have already taken action to tighten our excursion safety measures, approval process and documentation and will continue to review implementation of these interim measures. I know they want us to take steps to ensure this cannot happen to another student. It’s with that in mind, that we have put in place the following measures:
All future trips of this kind will be approved only after the Principal of the school sees and reviews documentation showing that only those students who passed the appropriate test will be going on the trip.
All students participating in a pre-trip canoe/swim test will be given the results of this test.
All parents of children taking part in future trips that include swimming and/or canoeing will receive their child’s canoe/swim test results prior to the trip. They will know that if their child is going on a trip, they have passed the test.  
We will be conducting a full third-party review of TDSB excursion procedures — specifically as it pertains to “high-care” activities such as multi-day canoe trips.

As I mentioned earlier, our investigation is not yet complete. While we have spoken with nearly all staff, students and volunteers who attended the trip, we have not yet been able to speak with a few individuals who, in light of the ongoing police investigation and on the advice of their legal counsel, have exercised their legal right not to speak at this time.  We hope to be able to speak with them as soon as possible.   

Although this has obviously been a tragic and difficult time for all involved, I do want to reassure TDSB students and parents that the TDSB intends to continue to provide all students access to and opportunities for outdoor education.  These programs provide students with valuable learning experiences and skills, however we will not do so at the expense of student safety. 

A fundamental requirement of any field trip is that parents trust their children are under our professional care. They must have confidence that the appropriate safety measures will be in place. We take this responsibility very seriously, and will continue to work diligently to restore their confidence.  

Going forward, we will provide important updates to Jeremiah’s family and the public once the results of the full investigation are known.


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