Family calls for inquest in death of disabled son at provincially run school for the blind
Published Tuesday, September 3, 2019 4:13PM EDT
Ontario's coroner's office should investigate a teenage boy's death at a provincially run school for the blind in order to ensure past troubling patterns are not re-emerging and to protect future vulnerable students, the teen's parents said Tuesday.
Andrea and Gladstone Brown are calling for a coroner's inquest into the death of Samuel Brown, a longtime student at the W. Ross Macdonald School for the Blind with multiple disabilities who died on the Brantford, Ont. campus just shy of his 19th birthday last February.
His parents allege only 12 hours passed between receiving a phone call indicating their son was slightly unwell and when he was pronounced dead in hospital, noting subsequent reports have reached conflicting conclusions about his cause of death.
They say they're particularly concerned in light of former allegations of abuse at the school, which prompted a class-action lawsuit settled out of court two years ago.
"For me to send off Samuel on a Sunday and get him back dead, we just want to get the truth of what really took place," Gladstone Brown said in a telephone interview.
W. Ross Macdonald's principal declined to comment on the case, referring questions to the Ontario Ministry of Education, which oversees the school.
Both the Ministry of Education and Ministry of the Solicitor General declined to comment. The office of the provincial coroner said there are no current plans to hold an inquest into Samuel Brown's death.
Andrea Brown said her son was born with a genetic condition that left him blind, deaf and non-verbal.
She said he began attending W. Ross Macdonald, the province's only dedicated school for the blind, starting at the age of four and experienced no problems for most of his tenure.
Andrea Brown said her son was in perfect health on the weekend of Feb. 2, 2018, the last time she saw him alive.
She heard no reports of illness until the evening of Feb. 8, when a staff member called to say her son was "a bit fussy" and was unwilling to get up for dinner.
She next heard from the school at 6:30 the next morning, at which point she learned he had been rushed to a nearby hospital.
It wasn't until she and her husband reached the hospital themselves, she said, that they learned their son was already dead by the time he was sent for medical help.
"It makes no sense to me," Andrea Brown said. "If he was not well, why wouldn't you bring him to the hospital? Or why wouldn't you keep communicating with us?"
The Browns said the investigating coroner produced a report saying their son had died of natural causes.
Dissatisfied with the finding, the family requested an autopsy. The resulting report concluded he died of pneumonia, a finding that only deepened the family's confusion and increased what they see as a pressing need for a formal inquest.
This is not the first time the school has faced allegations of student mistreatment.
A class-action lawsuit alleged students attending the school between 1951 and 2012 were subjected to psychological degradation, physical violence and sexual abuse.
The suit claimed staff members from teachers to school aides often resorted to violence, such as forcing students to drink from urinals and jumping on the backs of those as young as six years old.
The statement of claim also alleged staff played upon the visual impairments of students, sneaking up on them during private conversations and spinning students around to deliberately disorient them.
The plaintiffs settled the suit with the Ontario government for $8 million the day before a trial in the case was due to get underway.