5-year-old's drowning death 'a tragedy of unfathomable magnitude,' says Saskatoon Public Schools report

Saskatoon Public Schools has released a report into the drowning death of a five-year-old boy in Saskatoon, in September 2017.

Boy died accidentally in pond by Dundonald School last fall

A makeshift memorial at the pond near Dundonald School was erected following the death of the five-year-old boy. (Don Somers/CBC)

On his first full day of school at École Dundonald School on Sept. 11, 2017, Ahmedsadiq Elmmi pulled away from his educational assistant while running to go on a slide, according to a Saskatoon Public School report.

It was perhaps less than five minutes from that moment that a search was triggered for the five-year-old, which ended with staff finding him face down and dead in a nearby pond, in a "tragedy of unfathomable magnitude," according to the division. 

The division released the report on Wednesday, looking at the events that led to Ahmed's death and making recommendations for improving student safety. 

A team at the school had spent the summer planning for Ahmed, who required specialized supervision, to transition to Dundonald. His mother had shared some helpful tips on the supervision of her son, according to the report. She had told the school that "he must be holding an adult's hand at all times," except when he was going on the slides, one of his favourite activities. 

Ahmed had an educational assistant who was to supervise him during recess, and who was instructed to hold his hand through the recess period. She reported that she held on to him tightly, and twice he tried to get away. 

Saskatoon Public Schools superintendent of human resources Jaime Valentine and Barry MacDougall, director of education, talk about the division's report on the drowning death of a five-year-old student at Dundonald School. The report made eight recommendations to improve student safety. (CBC News)

"On the third try, he did get away and ran to line up to go on the slide," said the report, with division officials saying the assistant was distracted momentarily by another student coming up to her to ask for a hug.  

Ahmed's teacher was also on the playground, when she noticed Ahmed was not with his assistant. She ran over and asked where he was, and the assistant told her that she had let go of him to allow him to go on the slide. 

The teacher immediately alerted the other playground supervisors to look for Ahmed, and alerted the principal as well as 911 that he was missing. 

The report noted it was unclear how much time had elapsed between when Ahmed was separated from his assistant and when the search took place, but stated it would have been less than five minutes. 

When staff began looking through the area surrounding the school, a teacher and an educational assistant found Ahmed face down in the pond, located about 100 metres from the school, on city property. They began CPR, with an emergency crew taking over once members arrived on the scene.

"Ahmed was transported to hospital, but he could not be revived, and passed away," the report says.

It concluded that Ahmed's death was a tragedy, and stated the division "is deeply sorry for the family's loss and that it occurred while their child was under the school's supervision."

Recommendations made

The school felt confident that it had a "solid safety plan" in place for Ahmed's arrival at school, but the plan was not executed to perfection, the report said, with Ahmed running without an adult holding his hand to restrain him. 

On Wednesday, following the release of the report, the division's director of education and superintendent of human resources answered questions from reporters. They confirmed the educational assistant who had been working with Ahmed was still working with the division, and declined to discuss disciplinary measures taken, if any, citing it as a personnel issue.

New signage has been proposed for areas near storm water retention ponds. The Saskatoon Public Schools report recommended that the division should work with the city on planning for park areas near schools, which could include looking into physical barriers such as fences or additional signs. (City of Saskatoon)

The report made eight recommendations for improvement, including developing a safety plan to help transition "the most critical intensive support students" in the division.

It also recommended that kindergarten students should have recess at a different time from the rest of the school until the students acclimatize to being in a school or playground setting.

Other recommendations included having specific plans for students considered to be "runners," with items like reflective vests, gait belts or tethers potentially considered as "restraining devices." The report recommended these should only be implemented in consultation with parents.

It also recommended that a regular contract assistant should always work with and supervise students with intensive needs. If there is a substitute assistant, the principal should inform that assistant of all the requirements of the student, the report says.

It also recommended that the division should work with the city on planning for park areas near schools, which could include looking into physical barriers such as fences or additional signs. 

Chief coroner's report

The office of the chief coroner has also concluded its investigation into the drowning death of a five-year-old boy and has made recommendations including better supervising students, water safety education, and assessing whether ponds can be made safer.

The coroner is recommending that Saskatoon Public Schools (SPS) and Greater Saskatoon Catholic Schools (GSCS) review how how school staff supervise students during the recess, particularly "students who have special needs" who could be at greater risk of harm.

The review states the schools should also develop training for staff so they are all informed of the special needs of students in their schools.

The proposed path for a 1.2-metre wrought-iron fence around Dundonald Pond. The fence, recommended by the city, and other pond safety recommendations will be discussed by city councillors on April 16. (City of Saskatoon)

Water safety training for all students in SPS and GSCS schools is also recommended in the report.

It also says schools in future developments should not be located near ponds. Barriers are also recommended for ponds near schools and areas used by children.

People in the Dundonald area have asked for a fence to be erected around the Dundonald pond, an idea backed by the city.

A 1.2-metre fence recommended by the city, plus other pond safety recommendations, will be discussed by city councillors on April 16.

Other recommendations from the city include:

  • Revising existing signs by "using larger images to communicate dangers."
  • Requiring gentle slopes at future ponds.
  • Locating new ponds "a safe distance from schools."
  • Using roads or buildings as barriers between storm ponds and schools or playgrounds in new neighbourhoods.
  • Considering fencing on a case-by-case basis for other areas. 

The city has released some potential designs for the new signs.

The Dundonald Community Association quizzed around 80 residents in the area about the idea of the fence earlier in the month. Most supported the idea.

Residents also said trimming of weeds near the pond was important to them.

(Dundonald Community Association)
(Dundonald Community Association)

Saskatchewan's advocate for children and youth, Corey O' Soup, also launched his own investigation. The results from that will be released next week, his office said Wednesday.