Report: No adults saw student struggle in lake before drowning

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Children and adults swim Tuesday at Range Pond State Park in Poland. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

LEWISTON — Neither the adult chaperones nor the lifeguard saw Rayan Issa in distress or struggling in the water when he drowned June 12 at Range State Park during a Lewiston Middle School outing, a report conducted for the Lewiston School Department concludes.

Rayan Issa, 13, drowned June 12 during a Lewiston Middle School field trip to Range Pond. Part I of a two-part report from the Lewiston School Department’s lawyer, Daniel Stockford, concluded neither adults nor the lifeguard saw the boy in distress or struggling in the water.

However, students playing football in the water with Rayan reported seeing him go after the football into deeper water, then struggling for less than 30 seconds before he went under and did not come back, according to the report.

The report, released Monday night, does not indicate if or how quickly those students reacted. Superintendent Bill Webster said Tuesday he could not answer those questions because he had not talked to the report’s author.

The report states a student who told a teacher “he could not find Rayan” did not seem to have a sense of urgency, and other students began to speculate to the teacher that Rayan could be in the bathroom.

Because that teacher understood the boy could be in the water, she immediately went to get the lifeguard 100 yards away and notified other chaperones that the boy was missing, the report said.

Those are some of the findings of a private investigation into what happened. Commissioned by Webster, the investigation was conducted by Lewiston lawyer Daniel Stockford of Brann & Isaacson.

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On Tuesday, Androscoggin Sheriff Deputy Chief William Gagnon said his department’s report is not complete and that its investigation is ongoing.

Stockford’s report is Part I of the investigation, given to the Lewiston School Committee on Monday night.

Part II is not complete, and will focus on best practices about field trips that involve swimming. Those best practices are being developed with an expert on water safety.

The report’s preliminary conclusion is that the Lewiston Public Schools should change its policies and establish specific standards for field trips that involve water activities.

Webster has said field trips, including the upcoming summer program outings that begin July 2, will not allow swimming because it is unclear which students know how to swim.

Lewiston Superintendent of Schools Bill Webster, right, reads a directive on new procedures for field trips involving the school summer program during Monday’s school committee meeting. School committee chairman Francis Gagnon listens at left. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

GREEN TEAM TRIP

The report paints a picture of a day planned as a fun, end-of-school excursion, but that quickly turned to confusion and then tragedy when Rayan went missing.

Once the word spread that Rayan’s whereabouts were unknown, a 911 call went out at 11:47 a.m. Rayan’s body was found by Poland firefighters at 12:17 p.m. within the roped-off area, according to the Androscoggin County Sheriff’s Office.

In preparing the Brann & Isaacson report, all 11 adult chaperones were interviewed, as were five students.

The field trip was organized by the seventh-grade Green Team at Lewiston Middle School, which had taken a similar trip to Range Pond the year before.

The school’s team leader made an advance reservation with Range Pond State Park. Of the 138 students in the Green Team, 111 attended with 11 adult chaperones. The 11 adults all work for the school department, and included six teachers, a teaching coach and three ed techs.

The ratio of 10 students to one adult chaperone exceeded the Lewiston School Committee’s policy for middle school field trips, which requires there be one adult for every 15 students.

On June 12, students and chaperones arrived at Range Pond about 9:30 a.m. They met to discuss ground rules, which included students must listen to teachers, staff and lifeguard; be safe in the water; stay within the roped-off area; and have no horseplay in the water, according to the report.

Individuals interviewed for the report said no safety talk was given to the group by any Range Pond State Park employee, which contradicts a spokesman for the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, who has said the group was given a safety talk.

After visiting the changing area, the group went onto the beach, where there was one lifeguard. Students were allowed to go into the water, and chaperones arranged chairs or towels so they could watch students on the beach and in the water, according to the report.

TEACHER: ‘HE MAY BE IN THE WATER’

The tragedy unfolded “sometime after 11 a.m.,” according to the report, when “Student A” called out for the team leader.

The teacher went to the student, who told her “he could not find Rayan.” The teacher tried to determine where Rayan was last seen. Answers she received from students were confusing, the report said.

Some said Rayan could be in the bathroom. Because the teacher understood Rayan could be in the water, she immediately went to the lifeguard, who was about 100 yards from the area in the lifeguard stand, according to the report.

At the time Rayan was reported missing, there were six chaperones on the beach watching students — the team leader and five other educators.

“Neither the adult chaperones nor the lifeguard observed the student in distress or struggling in the water,” according to the report.

When the lifeguard was told the student was missing and could be in the water, he began looking for the student through his binoculars. “Chaperone A” asked the lifeguard to go to the area where Rayan was last seen, according to the report. The team leader was also in the water looking for Rayan.

The report said the chaperones on the beach “took action when Chaperone A reported that Rayan had been reported missing.” The team leader went to the group of students with whom Chaperone A had been speaking and got clarification that the students had last seen Rayan in the water.

The swimming area is marked by floating rope lines at the Range Pond State Park beach in Poland. (Daryn Slover/Sun Journal)

WATER GOT TOO DEEP

All of the students were ordered out of the water. They were lined up so “attendance” could be taken. The 110 students were then instructed to go to the shelter off the beach. Some chaperones went with them, others stayed and and continued the search, according to the report.

The team leader called 911.

According to the report: “The perception of some chaperones at the scene was that the lifeguard was slow in responding. When the lifeguard did not immediately get in the water to search where the student was last scene, one of the chaperones told the lifeguard to get in the water to help the team leader search.”

The lifeguard called for help from another park employee, and directed adults who could swim to help with a water search. The lifeguard organized five adults to do a water search, which involved them locking arms in a line, sweeping their feet. While doing that, the water got too deep.

“There was a sudden drop off in depth that put the water over their heads,” the report said.

The lifeguard then instructed adults to attempt a deep-water search by diving.

When the first rescue unit from the town of Poland arrived, Poland firefighters asked to speak to the students who had last seen Rayan. Three students were brought to the beach to show where they last saw him.

At 12:17 p.m., rescuers found the boy in the water.

“Efforts were made to remove the three students from the beach as quickly as possible,” according to the report.

Rayan was placed in an ambulance and rushed to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead.

About Rayan Issa

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