Monday, January 16, 2012

Freshman Drowns in East Hartford High School Pool during Gym Class

Jan 2012: A 15-year-old freshman student, Marcum Asiamah, drowned during a high school gym class at East Hartford High School. His family said he was excited to learn to swim during his gym class. Adults were present when students saw Marcum at the bottom of the pool. The teacher jumped in and performed CPR until first responders arrived. The teen was rushed to Hartford Hospital but did not survive and was pronounced dead at Hartford Hospital. the autopsy determined he was the victim of an accidental drowning.
Word of the accident spread quickly and many parents for calling their children to make sure they were safe. "A lot of the kids were freaked out and they were starting rumors about it," student Tracy Holmes said. "How do you let that happen?" said Solese Natta, another parent at the school. School Superintendent Mark Zito says the drowning remains under investigation. News 8 even called the CT State Department of Education to ask what the rules are for school's with pools. The representative reached said “They said they will look into this.” Manchester School Superintendent Mark Zito said in a prepared statement:
"Today there was a tragic event at East Hartford High School where a student drowned. The incident is under investigation and we have no findings that we can share with you at this time.  Student safety is of paramount concern and the school district will continue to work with the East Hartford Police Department to investigate this incident.  The pool will remain closed pending this investigation. Our heartfelt sympathy goes out to the family and friends of the student involved in this incident.  The school district is planning to provide grief counseling and support for students, faculty, and staff. The details of that support will be made available shortly."

Students who were at the pool when the incident happened were sent home early. Some other parents elected to pick their children up from school early due to the incident. Superintendent Mark Zito, visited the family's home to offer condolences and a referral to a therapist to help them cope with their loss. Grief counselors were be available for students, faculty and staff at school the next day. A vigil was held two days later on a friday night at 5:30 p.m. so students can come together to remember this young student. At the candlelight vigil, Joshua Dillon, president of the East Hartford High School student council, asked students to speak, and a few accepted, offering prayers and condolences to the family.

Points for Discussion: 
  • Don't wait for a tragedy to occur to determine what are the best safety practices for your facilities, and if there are associated risks, how you can mitigate them to an acceptable level.
  • A swimming pool in your school offers unique opportunities for your students and staff as well as unique risks (drowning, head injuries due to diving, chlorine chemicals, etc.).
  • Are there state department of education guidance or guidelines for pools at educational institutions, if not, why not?
  • Some safety procedures to discuss:
    • In military swim training or waterborne activities, those individuals who are non-swimmers and poor swimmers are identified and handled differently from those who can swim. 
    • Establishing a supervised peer buddy system between students can aid in a student not wandering off or doing their own thing. This is an added layer to existing supervision and increasing student's level of awareness of looking out for each other. 
  • The knee-jerk reaction is to close the pool indefinitely. While this is safest thing to do from a litigious standpoint, more good can be done by teaching children to swim and float to prevent further drownings.   
  • Comment on School Leadership: While not knowing the results of the drowning investigation, I applaud the superintendent actually visiting the family to offer his condolences and support to them. This type of personalized leadership is often unrecognized by people in educational leadership positions due to a lack of leadership education and training, and a fear of litigation.

Friday, January 6, 2012


An unfortunate tragedy occurred when police responded to a Lockdown incident at Cummings Middle School in South Texas. The shooting happened during first period at the school in Brownsville, a city at Texas' southern tip just across the Mexican border. Responding officers were required to shoot an eighth grade student who was holding a weapon.
The fifteen year old student, Jaime Gonzalez, had assaulted a fellow student and pulled a black pistol (see picture above) triggering the Lockdown response by school authorities. Jaime had walked into a classroom and punched a boy in the nose for no apparent reason. Police did not know why he pulled out the weapon, but "we think it looks like this was a way to bring attention to himself."  Teachers were notified over the school intercom that the school was on lockdown. They locked classroom doors and turned off lights, and some frightened students dove under their desks. They could hear police charge down the hallway. Students described the panic they felt during the lockdown. Renee Almazon, 15, crouched with her teacher and classmates away from all windows and doors. "We all moved to the corner where they couldn't see us," she said. Her teacher kept telling the class, "This is a real thing,"

A recording of police radio traffic posted on TV website indicates that officers responding to the school believed the teen had a handgun. An officer is heard describing the teen's clothes and appearance, saying he's "holding a handgun, black in color." The officer also said that from the front door, he could see the boy in the school's main office.  The student continued to brandish the weapon while police arrived and police repeatedly instructed him to drop the weapon which he failed to comply. The police were required to shoot him for their safety and the safety of others. Officers shot the teen with assault rifles, the interim police chief said. Unfortunately the boy died and his weapon turned out to be a replica (see picture above) Glock pellet gun. About 20 minutes elapsed between police receiving a call about an armed student and shots being fired, according to police and student accounts. Authorities declined to share what the boy said before he was shot. Police Chief Rodriguez said the teen was pointing the weapon at officers and "had plenty of opportunities to lower the gun and listen to the officers' orders, and he didn't want to." The chief said his officers had every right to do what they did to protect themselves and other students even though there weren't many others in the hallway at the time. Police said officers fired three shots.

Parents Reaction: Jaime’s distraught parents demanded to know why police took lethal action against their son. "Why was so much excess force used on a minor?" the boy's father, Jaime Gonzalez Sr., asked The Associated Press outside the family's home Wednesday night. "Three shots. Why not one that would bring him down?"  Then she flipped through three close-up photos she took of bullet wounds in her son's body. "What happened was an injustice," she said angrily. "I know that my son wasn't perfect, but he was a great kid." Jaime had gunshot wounds on his shoulder and rib cage, and one in the back of his head. "That's the shot that bothers me the most," Jaime Gonzalez Sr. said to The Brownsville Herald.

The officers will be placed on leave, a normal procedure in this type of event. Students, who were bused to another high school after the incident to meet their parents, Administrators said the school would be closed Thursday but students would be able to attend classes at a new elementary school that isn't being used.

Superintendent Carl Montoya remembered Gonzalez as "a very positive young man… Just something unfortunately happened today that caused his behavior to go the way it went. So I don't know," he said Wednesday. Gonzalez Sr. said he had no idea where his son got the gun or why he brought it to school, adding: "We wouldn't give him a gift like that." 

The Associated Press and The Brownsville Herald contributed to this report.

Points For Discussion: 
  • While this is certainly a tragedy, if ANYONE in a school commits a violent act and then brandishes a weapon (real or a realistic replica) causing a LOCKDOWN which then triggers an emergency law enforcement response (active shooter or hostage situation), and that individual refuses to put the weapon down when directed by police, they will be shot, and if shot, they stand a good chance of being killed.
  • Many school shootings are over in the first few minutes before law enforcement arrives adding to the sense of urgency by law enforcement.
  • Where did the boy get the replica pellet gun from? Why did he bring it to school?  Who else knew he had it?
  • If this young man brought the replica gun to school to get attention, he did, and the replica gun put his own life at risk, and his failure to comply with armed officers cost him his own life.
  • All students KNOW any weapon or something that looks like a weapon is FORBIDDEN to be brought into a school for this very reason.
  • When Law Enforcement tells you to do something requiring them to draw a baton, taser, or firearm, YOU DO IT. You can ask questions later, complain, or make a complaint if you feel justified, but YOU COMPLY, especially in an emergency.
  • After the fact, hindsight can appear to be 20/20 but unless YOU have ever responded in-extremis to a life threatening situation requiring the use of deadly force with even a rudimentary understanding of terminal ballistics, then you shouldn't second guess the police.
  • This shooting like all shootings will be professionally investigated and the results and actions will be reviewed and disseminated.   

Final Comment: I feel sorry for the young loss of life (although understandable under these circumstances) and for the law enforcement professionals that were required to use deadly force because they faced a threat to the safety of the school community and their fellow officers. My prayers go out to his family and the law enforcement officials (and their families) who will bear the burden of what happened. God Bless.  

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

High School Teacher Arrested & Fired For Hitting Administrator Following an Evaluation


Dec 13, 2011  

A Springfield Mass. High School of Commerce math teacher of nine years, Willie Vega (44 yrs old), was accused of and arrested for punching the female Vice Principal in the face after he received a bad evaluation. Police said Vega became “enraged with his evaluation,” stabbed it with a pen and crumpled it up before he punched the 41-year-old female vice principal. The vice principal tried to flee her office but police said Vega blocked the door. The vice principal then grabbed her portable school radio and called for help, police said. Vega’s punch caused the vice principal’s left eye to swell up, 

Vega will be summoned to Springfield District Court on Jan 25th on assault and battery and kidnapping charges, Springfield Police Sgt. Delaney said. Vega, was placed on administrative leave with pay while an internal review was conducted. The accused teacher Mr. Vega refused to answer questions at a school disciplinary hearing about the alleged assault. His decision to remain silent was based on advice from a teacher’s union lawyer, according to Timothy T. Collins, president of the Springfield Education Association. The internal review resulted in the termination of Mr. Vega's employment as a teacher according to Springfield Public Schools spokeswoman Azell Cavaan. 

School officials were “shocked” and “shaken” by the allegations and are “cooperating fully” with police. the school Principal Charles Grandson IV said yesterday the school made counselors available to students and faculty. “All of us are reaching out to and supporting the administrator involved and making sure that that person is taken care of mentally and physically,” Grandson told the media. “She is getting better and school officials are working to make sure she has the support she needs.” The accused teacher said he has a meeting scheduled with two lawyers today as he faces assault and kidnapping charges. “I can only say I’m going to defend myself fully and use every resource I have to defend myself,” Willie Vega, told the media, declining to comment further. He was released on personal recognizance. The accused teacher must obey a no-contact order with the victim, and also has to obey the school’s trespass order. 

Points for Consideration:
  • As an employee, no one likes to be told their professional performance or behavior is substandard, but accountability is critical for any organization to function effectively. 
  • As a supervisor, few are comfortable with face to face (F2F) performance evaluation counseling if it is negative in nature.
  • A supervisor must prepare the performance counseling properly, especially a negative counseling. Things to consider:
    • The environment: where is this taking place, observers in the room, physical setting, etc.
    • Rehearsing and war-gaming the employee response: how might the employee respond, factoring in the dignity of the teacher, rebuttal scenarios, control of the meeting.
    • Personal safety: if it is anticipated that the employee will react emotionally;  having another administrator, security, or even the School Resource Officer (SRO) standing by in a "low profile" manner can be a prudent measure.
  • Personal and professional maturity of the employee receiving negative performance counseling AND the experience level of the administrator providing the negative performance feedback are factors to consider. 
    • Strongly recommend the Administrator's supervisor rehearse and role-play a variety of counseling scenario outcomes. 
    • If you anticipate the employee's response might get emotionally heated or even violent, you must rehearse the responses for this with the key personnel that could be involved.   

Remember, having to do more with less or reducing staff in tough budget times can cause great emotional and psychological stress causing unprofessional behavior and even violence at times. Educational leaders and administrators must prepare for this potential through realistic planning for the worst case scenario.