School District Agrees To Pay $2.5 Million, Make Changes After Pica Choking Death
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The estate of Bowen Levy and the Anne Arundel County Board of Education entered into a consent decree last week under which the system will pay $2.5 million, implement a special safety protocol geared toward children with a specific form of autism and provide special education staffing data to the family of a student who died after choking on a disposable glove at school.
Central Special School student Bowen Levy of Annapolis died Nov. 10, 2019, five days after gaining access to a rubber glove and swallowing it. Levy was diagnosed with autism as well as pica, a disorder that involves the eating of non-food items.
In a lawsuit filed last January, his family said the school system was aware of Levy’s pica and failed to provide the one-on-one supervision it had promised.
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“The consent decree addresses the chronic staffing shortages in special education and lack of supervision which led to Bowen’s tragic and unnecessary death. The Levy Family filed this suit to make sure no other child is placed at risk like Bowen was,” Tim Maloney, Bryan and Tanya Levy’s attorney, said in a statement. “They will work vigorously to enforce the consent decree to make sure special education programs in the county are properly staffed and supervised and safe for all children.”
The Levy family started a foundation when Bowen was a child to help other area families who have children with autism. The Bowen Foundation for Autism distributes grants, which pay for equipment, therapy and medical treatment, through Arc of the Chesapeake.
The foundation has distributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in aid, and the settlement will give them the ability to make sure the foundation continues in Bowen’s name, forever, Brian Levy said Thursday in an interview with The Capital.
“He was everything I could have asked for in a son,” Levy said.
Levy said it is also important that the consent decree mandates transparency from the system when it comes to classroom vacancies.
“The bigger piece for us was making sure that these children were never going to be put in the situation Bowen was put in,” he said.
Bowen was a kind, gentle spirit, without an aggressive bone in his body, his father said. The Levys felt like they owed it to their son to make part of his legacy be protecting other people in similar situations.
“He was a special kid in every sense of the word. There is no solace in this suit at all, as far as him being gone,” Bryan Levy said. “We felt a responsibility to the other children that are in the same situation.”
In early 2020, the Maryland Department of Social Services concluded an investigation into Bowen Levy’s death, stating his death likely involved child neglect. DSS reported that Levy died as a result of the systemic failure at Central Special School. AACPS did not contest the finding.
Maloney said his clients and the Board of Education signed a consent decree May 4, settling that lawsuit in the United States District Court for the District of Maryland.
The consent decree states that the parties “agree that there has been no adjudication as to the merits of any of the claims,” but mutually agreed to settle the suit, and the agreement “should in no way be considered as evidence of guilt or liability that (the Board of Education) has violated the law in any way.”
The consent decree is effective as of last week and lasts for three years.
As part of the agreement, the system will publish a statement on the events that led to Levy’s death. Maloney provided a draft of that statement to The Capital. The statement was published by AACPS late last week.
“Bowen’s classroom at Central Special was understaffed at the time the afternoon incident took place on November 5, 2019,” the statement by Board President Joanna Tobin and Superintendent George Arlotto said. “Bowen’s teacher was on leave for the afternoon and two of the Temporary Support Assistants (TSAs) who regularly provided supervision for Bowen and the other students in the class were assisting another student in a different area of the building. A third TSA was absent. A permanent, building-based substitute assumed the role of teacher in the afternoon and two high school student volunteers were present in the classroom.”
Earlier in the day, a staff member had to take a rubber glove from Levy’s mouth, the statement said. Staff members are in constant need of gloves, and gloves remained visible to Levy.
“We believe that is how Bowen accessed the glove that he swallowed later in the day,” they said.
After swallowing the glove Levy was deprived of oxygen for 15 minutes. He died five days after the incident. Levy was in class with six additional students, according to the DSS investigator.
The system agreed to implement a Pica Safety Protocol and provide training to all staff who work with a student with pica as part of the consent decree. Pica is common in children with intellectual disabilities, autism spectrum disorder or autism spectrum disorder characteristics, according to a study published by the American Academy for Pediatrics called “Pica, Autism, and Other Disabilities.”
As part of the safety protocol, workers will visually inspect all areas where students with pica frequent to ensure non-edible items are out of reach, routinely sweep and vacuum and lock cabinets, closets and doors. The system will provide pica-acceptable items during downtime, such as toys that can be chewed on but not swallowed.
Staff also will provide one-on-one supervision of a student with pica and will report pica-related incidents in accordance with a student’s individual education program.
AACPS also will report special education substitute staff vacancy data to the Levys regularly, who will share that information with the county’s Special Education Citizen Advisory.
The Board of Education is required to pay the family $2.5 million within 30 days.
County Attorney Greg Swain said in an email that the Board of Education participates in the County’s Self-Insurance Fund. The fund is established under county code to secure the liabilities of Anne Arundel County. The $2.5 million will come from there. The settlement was approved by the County Council in April, Swain said.
“Those who cared so deeply for Bowen, most especially his family but also the devoted Central Special educators and staff, will never fully recover from this tragic loss. We believe that the changes that have and will come about as a result of Bowen’s death will make the educational environment safer for all students,” Arlotto and Tobin said in the statement.
The system added 32 special education positions, including 11 permanent substitutes, 12 teaching assistants and 9 teachers in response to Levy’s death.
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