Monday, July 6, 2009

Grand Jury report applauds Atascadero Unified's pool safety plan

By AnnMarie Cornejo |

A more comprehensive safety plan could have helped prevent the drowning of Atascadero High School junior John Erlanson in May 2008, according to a civil grand jury report.

Prompted by Erlanson’s death, the civil grand jury investigated the pool safety plans of four San Luis Obispo County school districts that offer swimming in their physical education curriculum: Atascadero Unified, Lucia Mar Unified, Cayucos Elementary and Paso Robles Public Schools.

Erlanson, 17, was playing a game in Atascadero High School’s swimming pool with the rest of his mid-morning physical education class in May 2008 when he slipped under water for unknown reasons.

* Read the Grand Jury's report about county code enforcement

He was found unconscious at the bottom of the pool.

School staff performed CPR on him but he died later at Twin Cities Community Hospital in Templeton.

The grand jury concluded that three of the four school districts need to refine their campus’ safety plans.

The report commends Atascadero for its comprehensive pool safety plan.

The grand jury report states that Atascadero’s safety plan was finalized in September 2008, after Erlanson’s death. It is unclear how the plan was adapted after the drowning.

The grand jury report also does not make clear how the changes made could have prevented Erlanson’s drowning.

Atascadero school officials would not comment on the report, saying that they had been instructed by the school district’s legal counsel not to comment because of pending litigation.

To date, a civil suit has not been filed against the Atascadero district over the drowning.

The grand jury’s report recommends that Paso Robles Public Schools and Cayucos Elementary School District develop school safety plans.

Both school districts rely on safety policies drafted by the city or county in control of the pools that are used because neither district has a pool on its campuses.

Atascadero, Nipomo and Arroyo Grande are the only high schools with pools on their campuses.

The 19-member county civil grand jury, composed of citizen volunteers, investigates complaints about government.

Its recommendations are not binding, but the departments or agencies it investigates must file a formal response with Superior Court.

The four school districts named in the report have until August 30 to respond to the grand jury’s findings.

Reach AnnMarie Cornejo at 781-7939.

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