A Boy Breathes His Last—Literally

What schools must do to protect our children

Readers who suffer from asthma will empathise with this 10-year-old boy, more than others will. Having been a victim for over 40 years, this writer knows all the torture and anguish the malady brings. To explain it mildly, the attack brings on a deficit of air in the lungs. Breathing becomes difficult; it feels as if someone is sitting on your chest. Lack of oxygen makes concentration difficult and there are times when the victim dies. This is what happened to Ryan, a little boy schooling in Canada.

Ryan was severely asthmatic. During an attack, the bronchial pipes would narrow, making it difficult for Ryan to take in fresh air. The doctors advised him to carry a nasal spray, something like a deodorant can. Since asthma is commonly associated with allergies, the nasal spray would give the child instant relief; until the doctor arrived. The boy would find it easier to breathe until more effective medication could be administered.

This meant that Ryan had to carry the spray around with him at all times. Asthma attacks can come all of a sudden. Pollen, smells and even mental agitation can trigger the attacks.

This is where Ryan fell foul of the school. Since canisters, that are spray bottles, are considered possible concealed weapons that hide killer or stunning chemicals, most checkpoints do not allow them to be carried to public places. Ryan was asked not to take his spray bottle to class. He did as told.

Since the boy’s life depended on the spray, the school principal decided to keep the bottle in his office, to be used when required. It was a solution that apparently seemed OK.
One day, Ryan was hit suddenly, while in class. He found it hard to breathe. He gasped for breath. His friends carried him to the principal’s office to administer the inhalant. In that time, Ryan died.

Is the school responsible? After all, the arrangement was one that all sides agreed to. Yet, was this sufficient? Could not the spray have been kept closer? Could not the spray be checked and approved for carrying into the classroom? Did the authorities take medical opinion on this procedure and whether the journey from the classroom to the principal’s office allowed adequate time? It’s so easy to be wiser after the event.

In this case, the matter did not reach the courts. Ryan’s parents, though losing a precious child, thought it wiser to make this sad incident an example for the safety and lives of other children. They made the issue a national one and asked the legislators to evolve laws, measures and codes to prevent such occurrences in future. It was obviously too late for Ryan but, hopefully, not too late for hundreds of other kids.

Moneylife readers may think of this incident as one that is half a world away, not something that should really bother them. But nothing could be farther from the truth. Our own family doctor’s grand-daughter is one such child. On a school picnic to Lonavla, she was hit by a vehicle while crossing the road. She is physically and mentally impaired for the past two years; recovery is very slow and, most likely, will never be complete.
You be the judge.

Should or should not the school and the teacher be held liable? Negligence is lack of the duty of care. Do schools really plan excursions in advance, considering all the contingencies? Above all, is there any legislation in place? To begin with, should not the schools determine the maximum number of students per teacher’s responsibility? Are the children, and more so the teachers, properly trained for emergencies in advance? Distant picnics and excursions are eons away from the well-monitored confines of a school.

To all those with school-going kids, we beg that this be made a prime cause for concern. Parents-Teachers Associations must be asked to formulate conditions; later the same should be asked of the departments of education. Every child is precious.

Bapoo Malcolm is a practising lawyer in Mumbai. Please email your comments to [email protected] or [email protected]

9 years ago
Emergency procedure trainings must be made mandatory to parents as well as teachers. Unfortunately its done more out of compliance & not with the intention of handling a scenario when it actully occurs. Fire drills are classic examples (everytime we have insidents with the same patterns & yet we dont learn from it)
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