The family of Abdullahi Charif, a 12-year-old boy who drowned last year in a St. Louis Park middle school pool, has reached a $3 million legal settlement with the school district, the family’s attorneys said Thursday.
Charif’s family filed a personal injury lawsuit last May seeking damages for the drowning. Abdullahi was found floating in the deep end of the school pool on Feb. 27, 2014. He died a few days later.
At the time of the drowning, the gym teacher, James Bigot, was supervising 28 children in the pool, including Abdullahi, whom he had earlier described as not knowing how to swim.
Charif’s death prompted several Minnesota school districts to re-examine their swimming pool safety policies. Most schools require that a lifeguard or a certified water safety instructor be on duty when students are swimming. But beyond that, policies varied widely.
Last year, Minnesota legislators considered a measure that would have required public schools to provide swimming lessons for all K-12 students. The measure never passed, drawing opposition from districts concerned about costs for new staff, transportation, pool rental and pool upkeep.
A Hennepin County attorney’s office investigation found that Abdullahi and other boys in the class were roughhousing in the pool, where they would take turns knocking each other off an inflatable raft.
Students told investigators Abdullahi was knocked off the raft and took a belly flop in the deep end. After the class was over, Bigot found him floating and tried to revive him.
“The result of all of these failures was as predictable as it was tragic,” said the family’s attorney, Eric Hageman. “Pools are dangerous places for nonswimmers, which is why we require teachers who supervise children in pools to follow basic safety rules. If the rules were followed here, this tragedy could have been avoided.”
The boy’s father, Ali Warsame, said the lawsuit was not about money. It was about learning how the boy drowned under the supervision of school staff.
“While we will forever feel the pain of the loss of Abdullahi, we are dedicated to ensuring that his death was not in vain and that those responsible for supervising children in school pools will keep children safe at all times,” Warsame said in a statement. “Pool safety must always be the first concern and never again an afterthought, as it was on the day Abdullahi drowned.”
In a statement, the district said it was “pleased that both parties were able to reach a reasonable settlement. St. Louis Park Public Schools wishes the family well as they move forward in honoring the life of Abdullahi.”
The statement also said that “student safety remains a top priority for the school district. Pool safety has been addressed, and discussion is ongoing regarding swimming curriculum at the Middle School.”
A district spokeswoman said that middle school physical education classes do not include swimming this school year. The pool is open for after-school and community use.
In 2013, two students from the district were killed in a landslide during a field trip at a St. Paul park. In that case, the district reached a $200,000 settlement with the families of the two boys killed and with the family of another who was seriously injured.