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Toronto teen allowed on fatal school trip despite failing swim test

Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah Perry, a student at C.W. Jeffreys Collegiate Institute who drowned on a school-run camping trip this summer, in a photo provided by his family.

A Toronto teenager who drowned on a school camping trip last month did not pass a required swimming test – nor did half the students on the excursion, an investigation has found.

The Toronto District School Board's director of education, John Malloy, said on Wednesday he was "deeply troubled" to learn that crucial safety requirements were not followed before the portaging trip in Algonquin Provincial Park. Jeremiah Perry, 15, a student at C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute, drowned in July on the third day of an outdoor education excursion while swimming in a lake with his classmates.

The Globe and Mail has learned that the swim-test results came to light only after one of the school trip's organizers provided the documents to the TDSB for its investigation. The swim results were not revealed to the school principal or anyone else at the school board in the weeks after Jeremiah's death.

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The documents showed that 30 students took the swim test, and 15 failed. There is no documentation on two others who went on the trip.

Students who failed the swim test were not offered more instruction or further testing, as is required by the TDSB's protocol, Mr. Malloy said in a statement on Wednesday as he released the initial results of the investigation.

The two teachers who supervised the students on the trip have refused to speak with the TDSB, Mr. Malloy said. The teachers are on home assignment, which means they will not return to the classroom during the probe. The Ontario Secondary School Teachers' Federation, which represents the two teachers, declined to comment on Wednesday. (Four volunteers also accompanied the students.)

The multiday camping and canoeing trip to Algonquin Provincial Park was part of a school-credit course. Jeremiah was swimming in Big Trout Lake when he disappeared under the water and did not resurface. Search and rescue crews found his body a day later.

The Ontario Provincial Police and the Office of the Chief Coroner are conducting separate investigations into Jeremiah's death.

Jeremiah's father told the CBC last month that his son did not know how to swim.

It remains unclear why the teachers decided to take Jeremiah and other students on the trip knowing they failed the test and it would go against the school board's policies.

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The TDSB's expectations are that all students attending water-based field trips must pass a swim test designed specifically for canoe trips at a third-party facility on a lake.

If they do not pass, they are supposed to be given another opportunity to take the test and receive one-on-one coaching in the C.W. Jefferys pool.

Alternatively, students could be offered an outdoor education activity on land at a later date to meet credit course requirements.

Mr. Malloy said he spoke with Jeremiah's family earlier on Wednesday and offered "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," he added.

The TDSB has tightened its excursion safety measures and approval process, Mr. Malloy said. For future multiday trips that require the ability to swim, principals will review the results of the tests and give their approval.

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As well, students and their parents will be given the results of pretrip tests.

"A fundamental requirement of any field trip is that parents trust their children are under our professional care," Mr. Malloy said.

"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."

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About the Author
Education Reporter

Caroline Alphonso is an education reporter for The Globe and Mail. More

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