Fort Worth schools review events policy after student's drowning

Posted Thursday, Apr. 18, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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FORT WORTH -- The Fort Worth school district has launched an inquiry into the weekend death of a 17-year-old Carter-Riverside senior who drowned at an off-campus soccer team party, according to Judy Needham, school board president.

Saturday's death of Abdel Malik Cisse was the second drowning death of a student in less than a year at an off-campus party organized by faculty members.

Needham said the district needs to do a better job at keeping students safe, and she will suggest the board look into a policy concerning non-school sponsored functions after the investigation has been completed.

"I think they were remiss in not letting their principal know or getting in touch with the athletic department," Needham said. "Two lives within a year is two lives too many."

Fort Worth Fire Department dive team members pulled Cisse from the water in the 900 block of Riverbank Road in Gateway Park. Cisse was attending an end-of-year soccer picnic with members of the varsity and junior varsity teams. The picnic was organized by the soccer coaches to celebrate the end of the season.

On Aug. 31, Rick Sek, a 15-year-old band student at Paschal high school was attending the band's annual end-of-camp pool party and was pulled unconscious from a pool at the Lockheed Martin Recreation Area in Fort Worth.

Both drownings were ruled accidental by the Tarrant County medical examiner's office. Police said Wednesday that both cases are closed and that their investigation into both drownings is over.

According to Tim Hardeman, Fort Worth Fire Department spokesman, the soccer coaches were cleaning the picnic area and heard a commotion at the riverbank. One of the coaches went to the riverbank and was told a player had jumped into the water and disappeared.

Divers pulled Cisse from the Trinity River and began resuscitation efforts before bringing him to Texas Health Harris Methodist Fort Worth, Hardeman said. Cisse was pronounced dead about 9:20 p.m., according to the Tarrant County medical examiner's office.

Neither the soccer team picnic nor the annual band party were school-sponsored functions, said Clint Bond, school district spokesman. Bond said the district has no policy regarding unsponsored social events attended by staff or faculty members that include students.

"It's unfortunate," he said. "The principal was not informed about the trip. There were no busses involved. Parents brought their children. Some stayed, others left."

The soccer picnic was over when Cisse jumped into the water, Bond said, and a sign reading "Closed to the Public" blocked the path to the area where he was swimming. According to a city official, no area of the Trinity River inside Gateway Park is designated for swimming. Signs closing the embankment to the public are posted.

Many of those at the picnic had already left or were leaving when it was discovered that Cisse was missing, Bond said.

"I think this is an unfair finger-pointing at schools," Bond said.

The district's preliminary inquiry determined that five adults, including three soccer coaches, accompanied approximately 30 students to the picnic, according to district officials. Soccer coaches Richard Gonzalez, Forrest Henshaw and Mario Carmona organized and were present at the event, the district said in an emailed statement.

Carter-Riverside principal Greg Ruthart and the soccer coaches declined to comment for this story.

Adults who were at Gateway Park during the event told the students not to go swimming and not to go near the river, Walter Dansby, the school district's superintendent, said in an email on Wednesday.

Dansby said the district requires that at least one chaperone be present for every 10 students at a school-sanctioned event. School-sponsored events involve written or voice messaged parental notification, he said.

The Gateway Park event, which was not school sponsored, did not require a permission slip, Dansby said.

"For the duration of school-sponsored events, district personnel and chaperons are responsible for the safety of student attendees," Dansby said. "This was not such an event and the event had even concluded prior to the accident occurring," Dansby said. "At no time leading up to the event was swimming mentioned as a planned activity."

The school district reviewed the circumstances surrounding Sek's drowning and determined that life guards were on duty when the drowning occurred, Dansby said. After the August drowning, band director Bryan Wright said that Sek was not a strong swimmer.

"The first time we knew something was wrong, he was already underwater," Wright said after the August tragedy. "I am their leader ... and this is just horrible," Wright said in August.

Cisse family spokesman Robert Bongo, Abdel Cisse's uncle, said the family is busy making preparations for his funeral and the events leading up to his drowning are not an immediate concern.

Cisse told friends he wanted to be a professional soccer player once he graduated. He was the family's only child, Bongo said. Cisse immigrated to the United States from Togo with his mother in 2005 because the family wanted him to have a better education, Bongo said.

"He had some other offers, but he wanted to attend Texas Wesleyan University to be close to his mother," Bongo said.

Mitch Mitchell, 817-390-7752

Twitter: @mitchmitchel3

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