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'Unimaginable tragedy': Teen dies after being found unresponsive at Ontario school

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The family of an Ontario teen with special needs who died after being found unresponsive at his high school is planning legal action while seeking answers following an "unimaginable tragedy," their lawyer said Friday.

Sixteen-year-old Landyn Ferris was found alone and unresponsive in a sensory room at Trenton High School on May 14, said Josh Nisker, who is representing the teen's family.

Paramedics were called to the scene and tried to resuscitate Ferris, the lawyer said. The boy was then brought to a hospital where he was pronounced dead.

"They're obviously beside themselves," Nisker said of the family. "It's an unimaginable tragedy for them to experience."

Nisker said Ferris had Dravet Syndrome, a form of epilepsy. He said the family has "very little information" about what happened at the school.

"All we know is that he was found at the end of the school day, cold and unresponsive, having been left in that room alone for some time," he said.

Nisker said Ferris was at risk of seizures while sleeping. He said Brenda Davis, Ferris's mother, had previously expressed concerns to the school about the teen napping and had asked that he be properly supervised.

He said the family was told that Ferris was put in the room for a nap for an unknown amount of time before he was found.

"His condition and vulnerabilities were known to the school, and the risk of seizure was known to the school," the lawyer said.

Nisker said the family plans to launch a civil lawsuit against the school board, and seek disclosure of records and policies related to Ferris's death and care at the school.

In an emailed statement, a spokesperson for the Hastings and Prince Edward District School Board said, "the family is grieving, as are students, staff and the greater school community."

The spokesperson did not comment on the status of a board investigation into the teen's death, but said "a comprehensive review of procedures and processes is underway."

Ontario Education Minister Stephen Lecce called the death "an unspeakable tragedy" and extended his condolences to the family and friends of the student, as well as the entire board community.

"I know all parties will work together to ensure this tragedy does not occur again," Lecce wrote in a statement.

A spokesperson from the Office of the Chief Coroner confirmed the death is being investigated.

Ferris's death has sparked calls for action from advocacy groups in Ontario, including the Ontario Autism Coalition. The organization said the teen's death highlights broader issues in the province's special education system, including what they called inadequate funding and support.

"We are deeply sorry that this has taken place, but sadly, we are not surprised," Alina Cameron, president of the coalition, wrote in a statement. "Landyn's passing is a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities of children with special needs."

The Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance, a disability advocacy group, argued Ferris's death speaks to the provincial government's lack of accessibility standards in schools.

"Ontario's schools, like the rest of our society, are far behind reaching the mandatory goal of becoming accessible to people with disabilities by 2025, the deadline which the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act imposes," David Lepofsky, chair of the organization, wrote in a statement.

The opposition NDP also called for action.

"We don't need to wait for the results of the investigation into Landyn's death to take immediate steps to make children safer at school," education critic Chandra Pasma wrote in a statement.

Nisker, the family's lawyer, said the teen's loved ones are focused on getting answers.

"Ultimately, the family hopes that there could be some positive change that comes from this," Nisker said. "Unfortunately, it took a tragedy for that change to hopefully materialize."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 31, 2024.

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