Western News

Cornwall College cleared

AG says school not liable for student’s death

BY HORACE HINES Observer West reporter ?hinesh@jamaicaobserver.com

Thursday, September 20, 2012    

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CORNWALL College administrators are breathing a collective sigh of relief following a ruling by the Attorney General’s Chambers that clears the institution of any liability for the death of student Jamie Brown two years ago.

Brown, a grade seven student, died after collapsing during the school’s annual cross-country race to herald the start of the 2010 athletics season.

His death drew the ire of his mother Karen Brown, who accused the school’s administration of negligence. During a passionate address at his funeral, the distraught mother posed several questions to the administration. She asked:

• How could an activity that takes place off school property happen without the written consent of parents?

• Why wasn’t any screening done to determine the physical fitness of the students?

• Was there pre-participation examination for students? (Did they have enough time for digestion and were they dehydrated before the race?)

• Who designed the long and difficult route for the race, which included 12 and 13-year-old students?

• Why were the children thrown out to run on the main road to battle with the traffic on a road that does not have a sidewalk?

• Why didn’t they have trained personnel to stop those who were exhausted and remove them from the race?

• Why didn’t they have medical personnel, trained in CPR and equipped with first-aid supplies riding and driving at various points along the route with them?

• Why were there no water stops along such a long and hilly route?

• Why were the children sent out to run at 2:00 pm when the sun was at its hottest?

The teen’s death was subsequently reported to the Ministry of Education and the matter later referred to the Attorney General’s Chambers for a ruling on whether the institution was liable.

Now two years on, a Ministry of Education letter to Cornwall College has revealed that the decision from the Attorney General has come back, clearing the school of any wrongdoing.

According to the letter, dated August 13 this year, not only did the school receive permission from the boy’s father for him to participate on the race, his “heart attack was sudden and his parents did not appear to have been aware that he had sickle cell trait”.

“Knowledge of this would have disqualified him from participating in the crosscountry race,” the letter said.

“The school discharged its duty by having a safe route with police officers as outriders/escorts and adequate water stations,” it added.

School principal Denham McIntyre has refused to comment on the issue.

However, Gerald Chambers, chairman of the Cornwall College Sports Development Committee at the time of Brown’s death, said he was happy that the school had finally come out from under the cloud of suspicion that it had been careless.

At the same time, he said McIntyre had, over the years, been meticulous in his efforts to ensure that the Ministry of Education’s guidelines for the running of the institution were followed.

“We were certain that Mr Mac [McIntyre] was very scrupulous in putting in all the rules that regulated sports in this school. He insisted that all medical certificates had to be produced before anybody was allowed to do games. This was furthering the Ministry of Education guidelines,” Chambers said.

Meanwhile, the Observer West was reliably informed by a source at the all-boys institution that the school fraternity had been badly traumatised by the damaging publicity it received following Brown’s death.

“We kept quiet, but it affected the school a whole lot. Everybody was so concerned,” the source said, adding that the sports master in charge of the event at the time was so overcome with grief when the young student collapsed that he was unable to eat for several days.

The school also suspended two consecutive sports days in the wake of the death and only resumed those activities this year, at the behest of members of the Parent-Teachers Association.

“It took great will to resume Sports Day,” the source noted.

Still, the source said: “I knew from the first day that the school was not culpable [and now] we have been vindicated.”

The Attorney General’s Chambers has, in the interim, advised that an ex gratia payment is not necessary as Brown’s life was insured by Sagicor and his parents should have received a payment in the two years which have passed since his death.

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