CPS special ed care under scrutiny following autistic student's death
The Better Government Association and Chicago Sun-Times are questioning the adequacy of Chicago Public Schools’ (CPS) special education care following an in-depth investigation into the death of Rosario Gomez, a teenager with autism who drowned during gym class last winter.
According to the BGA, 14-year-old Gomez was attending Kennedy High School when his physical education class went to the pool for a “fun day” class. Gomez did not know how to swim and had difficulty communicating. The pool had two classes during that session, totalling approximately 70 students.
Faculty members on duty included two gym teachers, a lifeguard and an instructional assistant, as well as a special education classroom assistant and a substitute special education classroom assistant. Gomez was found at the bottom of the 12-foot-deep end.
Gomez's family is suing the school district for wrongful death, and CPS has faced criticisms for its special education care in the past. At the time of Gomez’s death, the school had made changes to its special education services, adding bureaucratic layers to its administration, the BGA reports. Some policies have since been revoked.
The lifeguard and the substitute special education classroom assistant were fired after the incident. The lifeguard told the BGA that there should have been more than one lifeguard on duty for the amount of swimmers and the pool should have an elevated lifeguard seat for better visibility. The classroom assistant told the BGA that the school did not provide a briefing on the special education students’ needs and that she was not aware she was responsible for Gomez.