The Better Government Association has sued Chicago Public Schools to obtain records that could shed light on the death of an autistic high school student who drowned in a swimming pool during gym class.
Rosario Gomez, a 14-year-old who didn’t know how to swim and had trouble communicating, died on Jan. 25, 2017 while under school supervision at Kennedy High School and amid growing concerns about the care special education students receive from the district. Rosario also was not wearing a life jacket and did not have a dedicated aide at his side.
The BGA and the Chicago Sun-Times published a story on Rosario’s death on Sept.10, raising questions about rules regarding special education supervision in general and specifically how none of the six employees supervising 70 students in the swimming class noticed Gomez moments before he drowned. The district says it planned appropriately and complied with safety regulations that day.
The BGA filed the lawsuit on Sept. 13 in Cook County Circuit Court after CPS refused a request in June for reports and any other records involving the drowning.
CPS denied the request on the basis that releasing the records would be an invasion of privacy.
In its lawsuit, the BGA says it is seeking records to better reveal the conduct of CPS employees at the pool and not personal information about Gomez. The suit cites a “significant public interest” in the information’s release to help the public assess the accuracy of CPS’ account of the events leading to Gomez’s death.
“We believe a public review of documents related to the tragedy will help us address those concerns and consider ways to improve the delivery of special education services to our most vulnerable young people and their families,” BGA President Andy Shaw said. “CPS refuses to release those documents, so once again we’ll see them in court.”
The request in June was made under the Freedom of Information Act, a law that entitles members of the public and press to review public records.
Gomez’s family filed their own lawsuit against the district in March, a wrongful death case that is still pending.