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2 disciplined for role in near drowning at Sun Prairie High School

By Adam Schrager, aschrager@wisctv.com
Published On: Jun 24 2013 07:15:46 PM CDT
Updated On: Jun 24 2013 08:20:41 PM CDT

Surveillance video shows Travonne Allen, 13, was under water for a total of 3 minutes, 19 seconds.

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. -

Two adults who were supervising 118 seventh-graders at the Sun Prairie High School pool in March when one student nearly drowned have been disciplined by the school district.

Neal Chase, a physical education teacher at Patrick Marsh Middle School, was issued a letter of reprimand, and Eric Breidel, who was the pool manager at the time, was given a letter of instruction. Breidel resigned his position last week and efforts to reach him to ask why have not been successful.

The letters will go in the two men's personnel files and were initially issued in April, roughly a month after the March 20 incident when 13-year-old Travonne Allen was underwater for three minutes and 19 seconds before being rescued by Breidel.

Both men were complimented for their actions in saving Allen, but the district's investigators determined both had failed in their duties before the near-drowning occurred.

The news of the discipline was shared with News 3 after an open-records request to the district.

Chase was criticized for not "correcting inappropriate student behavior" (i.e. pushing and roughhousing in the pool) and for being "absent" from his post "for over 15 minutes of the 55-minute timeframe prior to the incident, or just under 28 percent of the time."

The investigators also noted Chase was involved in conversations with staff and students another 18 minutes, or 33 percent of the time.

Chase is appealing the penalty and is being represented by his union representatives in the process. Chase also did not respond to an interview request.

Breidel was penalized for also allowing the inappropriate behavior and for not doing a better job supervising Chase.

"While we realize that, as a lifeguard, your focus is on the activities of the students in and around the pool, as pool manager you need to be also cognizant of the effectiveness of the assigned personnel supervising the swim and supporting you in protecting the safety of the students," the letter of instruction read.

Breidel challenged his penalty in a note to Sun Prairie School District Deputy Administrator Phil Frei.

Breidel wrote that he was forced into a lifeguard role and a supervisory role "due to the (school) sending too many students without a structured educational purpose." He further stated that he had voiced his concerns to the school's PE department before the March 20 incident, but did not feel he had the authority to dispute the "administration's usage of the pool."

"He knew this wasn't a good idea," said Stephen Eisenberg, the Madison lawyer representing Travonne's parents.

Eisenberg plans to file paperwork this week informing the Sun Prairie School District of the family's intent to sue for negligence.

"What you want to do in a case like this is plant a precedent. You want to make sure it doesn't happen again,” said Eisenberg.

Governmental bodies traditionally have immunity from lawsuits, but Eisenberg says he expects that to be waived in this case since the pool did not have the appropriate number of lifeguards on duty that day, per state code. The maximum allowable damages to be won are $50,000.

"I know there was no malice here," Eisenberg said. "I know there was no intent to hurt anybody, but it really was. It's almost tantamount to giving someone five drinks and saying, 'Go drive.' The danger there was really evident."

The school district did not comment today, except to confirm Breidel's departure by email.

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