LEWISTON — Superintendent Bill Webster is making more changes to school department protocol a day after calling for an additional investigation into the drowning death of Lewiston Middle School student Rayan Issa on Tuesday.
Webster said he directed staff Thursday to implement new procedures for field trip approval forms, stipulating that any forms going to parents or guardians for their signature “include a full description of the possible activities that students will be involved in.”
Until now, permission slip forms in Lewiston, including for the Range Pond State Park trip where Rayan drowned, did not provide activity details.
The changes to the department’s policies on field trips pre-empt the recommendations that could come from a pending investigation by the school district’s law firm, Brant & Isaacson, following the tragedy.
After a vigil held for Rayan at the middle school Wednesday night, where hundreds gathered wearing red in honor of the 13-year-old’s favorite color, Webster tweeted that the Brant & Isaacson investigation would result in a report that will be made public.
The Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office also is investigating the drowning. The preliminary investigation indicated Rayan was playing in the water with friends within a buoyed swimming area when he went under and was missing underwater for at least half an hour.
Sheriff’s office Chief Deputy William Gagne said Thursday that the investigation “is still ongoing and there are no updates to report.”
Webster has said Rayan went underwater while playing football with friends, and that he might not have known how to swim.
In response to questions about whether future permission slips would note swimming ability, Webster said, “If we’re not in the position to implement best practices, whatever those may constitute, then I’m not sure we’re in the position to offer this type of experience going forward,” he said.
A copy of the permission slip used for the Range Pond trip was provided to the Sun Journal. The only details listed are the date, time and mode of transportation (bus) for the trip.
In addition to a signature from a parent, it asks permission for the student to receive emergency medical treatment, in case of emergency, with a blank space for an emergency contact.
Webster said the law firm’s investigation also might cover some of the same ground as the sheriff’s office investigation, but he felt it’s necessary because opposing versions of what transpired at Range Pond have circulated among students and on social media.
Some have claimed that chaperones were not immediately responsive or were even dismissive of students who told them Rayan was missing.
“I think it’s important given the various versions that have filtered out there that we have a clear picture of what transpired, not only around the tragedy itself, but perhaps procedurally some of the things that happened, or didn’t happen, leading up to it,” Webster said Thursday.
In Auburn, school officials decided Wednesday to cancel trips to Range Pond, in light of the tragedy. Superintendent Katy Grondin issued a robocall notice to parents Wednesday, informing them of the decision.
Grondin also forwarded a sample copy of Auburn’s field trip permission slip to the Sun Journal. In addition to the standard trip details, the document has a section that states: “I do understand there is some level of risk associated with this trip,” followed by potential risks listed by the teacher. It also has a list of instructions for parents and students.
Tuesday’s middle school field trip was among a number of trips approved by the Lewiston School Committee on May 7. Also approved that evening: an elementary school trip to Aquaboggan Water Park in Saco and high school excursions to Old Orchard Beach and whitewater rafting.
About Rayan Issa