There can be no doubt that respect for the rules is the most important factor in the prevention of drowning during school outings.
This is the critical issue underlying all the questions being raised after the recent drowning of student Jeremiah “Jerry” Perry during a school outing to Algonquin Park.
The pain of all the persons affected by this tragedy is palpable and the Caribbean Camera extends its heartfelt sympathies to each and every one of them, especially the members of Jerry’s family.
How does it feel to know that someone’s death might have been prevented?
How does the parent of a student feel when that someone is their own child?
How does each teacher and adult supervisor feel after one of their charges falls victim to what might be a preventable drowning?
What eats away at the heart of the school Principal after one of their students becomes that unfortunate victim?
The depth of all that pain forces everyone to ask a double=barreled question. What went wrong and why?
As they focus on the answers to those two considerations, the relevant authorities will be guided by the basic legal and regulatory issues.
What are the rules, procedures and protocols applicable to school outings involving access and proximity to swimming pools, waterways, lakes, ponds and the sea?
Were these regulatory requirements known, applied and satisfied in this case?
At which stages or stages were they not applied and satisfied with the rigour that can literally make the difference between life and death?
In this instance, the relevant authorities are the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), the C. W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute, the school Principal, as well as the teachers and adult supervisors who managed this outing to Algonquin Park.
At a totally different level, there is also the question of parental responsibility.
Did Jerry’s parents know that this school trip entailed going into or near to the water for swimming, boating, rowing or hiking? Jerry’s father is reported to have said that his son did not know how to swim.
In those circumstances, did either of the boy’s parents inform the school of that significant limitation? Did either of his parents enquire whether he could still qualify for the trip to Algonquin?
Did the parents take it for granted that the school authorities would take the necessary measures to protect Jerry from harm if he was allowed to go on the outing?
It should also be borne in mind that there are two peculiar cultural factors at play here.
The first is that this 15-year old Guyanese-born student recently arrived in Canada from the Caribbean, a place where many, if not most persons of all ages do not know how to swim. This is ironical, given the ubiquitous presence of the sea and of rivers in the Caribbean region.
The second cultural peculiarity is the fact that Jerry’s migration to Canada last September brings him from a region in which parents have a tradition of entrusting their children to the school with the implicit conviction that the school system will take care of everything.
Parental involvement there is therefore minimal because of that Caribbean tradition of blind trust in the all-embracing and all-caring school. In Canada, that may not be the best approach to parenting, especially given that such a tradition has never been the norm.
And yet, in spite of all the painful and serious responsibility issues of this case, there are some modest sources of comfort and hope for a better future.
All the affected and relevant persons and authorities are responding positively to the ongoing investigations.
Even in the approach being taken by Jerry’s parents, the pursuit of truth and meaningful change has triumphed over anger. Pain has not led to an overwhelming bitterness.
A shining example is being set for other families already torn apart by the idea that the death of their loved one might have been prevented.
Let us work this case through with the appropriate thoroughness, so that no more families will have to suffer the tragedy that we have just experienced.