TORONTO – Two teachers knew that nearly half of the 32 students they accompanied on an ill-fated canoe trip earlier this summer had failed a required swim test but allowed them to go anyway, the Toronto District School Board said Thursday.
Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah Perry – one of the students who didn’t pass the swim test prior to the July trip – disappeared under a lake during an evening swim and didn’t resurface. His body was recovered by search and rescue divers the next day.
The board’s executive officer of community and public relations, Ross Parry, said that they trusted teachers to be able to oversee swim tests and to make sure that all students had passed them before being allowed to go on field trips.
“They would be the only people who would know. They would be present for the swim test and present for the pass/fail,” he said.
“When the trip was approved, the provision of the pre-swim test was built into the approval form. When the teachers applied for approval for the trip they were expected to fulfil the provisions of the form, which includes… making sure there is a swim test.”
A mother of one of the students who failed her swim test confirmed to Global News that she was unaware her daughter had even taken one.
“I never got anything sent home to me that said anything about a swim test. The only thing I got was a permission form,” she said.
The mother goes on to say that she she personally believes the two teachers should be held accountable for the tragic incident.
Parry said that the board’s internal investigation has suggested that some of the students didn’t even know whether they passed or failed the swim test, which involved rolling out of a canoe, treading in water for a minute, and swimming 50 meters without a life-jacket.
Of the 32 students on the trip, only 15 passed the swim test. Another 15 failed and two students had no documentation about the swim test at all.
The board said Wednesday that it has already changed its policy to ensure that school principals, parents, and students themselves know whether they have passed or failed required tests prior to the field trip taking place.
Education Minister Mitzie Hunter said Thursday she had met with the teen’s family and expressed her condolences, saying that no family should have to go through what Jeremiah Perry’s did.
“It’s very troubling to me that procedures were not followed in this instance,” said Hunter. “This type of incident really affects the school community and I believe it will cause boards to look at their policies and look at their procedures.”
Hunter also announced that the province was launching a review of outdoor education policies for every school board in Ontario.
“I want to ensure that the safety of students is of top priority, and that an incident like this never happens again,” she said.
The province will also increase funding to life-saving swimming programs, and raise awareness about those programs specifically to incoming Canadian residents, Hunter said.
VIDEO: TDSB issues apology to family of student who drowned on Algonquin trip