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Some parents are suing anyway. The Shane family of Kansas filed a lawsuit against Arizona State University after their 21-year-old son, Joshua, was pulled out to sea on a study-abroad program in Thailand in 2012.
“I don’t want money, I want answers,” said Joshua’s mother, Mindy Shane, who said she was initially “incredibly naive. I thought that because he was in school, earning credits, there would be an investigation. They said, ‘What investigation? He drowned.’ ”
Ros Thackurdeen was in the Twin Cities in June for a ClearCause fundraiser and to be among families that, she said, “share an unspoken understanding.”
Her 19-year-old son, Ravi, a sophomore at Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, was on a rigorous global medicine trip to Costa Rica through the school’s study-abroad office, when on a weekend break in April of 2012, he and other students were taken to a beach.
Ravi was pulled out on a rip current. “There were no flotation devices, no rope, no working communication devices,” said Thackurdeen, of upstate New York. “They watched my son struggle for 40 minutes, then watched him go under.”
She later learned that locals never swam in this dangerous spot. “The program told me they were not responsible for what happened to my son,” she said through tears.
Bonoff, who is chair of the Senate Higher Education and Workforce Development Committee, has discussed her concerns with Larry Pogemiller, commissioner of the Minnesota Office of Higher Education, who has been supportive.
“It’s all about developing a law that’s going to work,” Bonoff said. “We think that asking for reporting on safety standards, rather than issuing a mandate on program specifics, achieves the right balance.”
By ratcheting up oversight, Bonoff said, Minnesota can become a model for the nation. Sheryl Hill is already a brave role model for too many families enduring unfathomable loss.
“Sheryl is driven to make a difference,” Bonoff said. “She sees herself as everyone’s mom. They’re all her kids.”