PaperTexture - Teachers thought a CT child was playing dead, but after about 10 minutes, ‘it was too late,’ lawsuit says

Teachers thought a CT child was playing dead, but after about 10 minutes, ‘it was too late,’ lawsuit says

WEST HARTFORD — The parents of a 5-year-old boy who died after collapsing at school last year are suing the town over what they claim was a preventable death.

Romeo Pierre Louis, a student at Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford, died two days after falling to the ground at recess on April 5, 2022.

His parents, D’Meza Shultz Pierre Louis and Chantel Pierre Louis, have filed a civil lawsuit against the town and the Board of Education, alleging the teachers supervising recess that day didn’t react fast enough to Romeo’s medical emergency.

“Romeo was allowed to collapse and lay on the ground for nearly 10 minutes without any assistance or medical treatment — despite several teachers … being in close proximity,” according to the complaint, which was filed this week by the law firm of Silver Golub & Teitell.

1200x0 - Teachers thought a CT child was playing dead, but after about 10 minutes, ‘it was too late,’ lawsuit says
Romeo Pierre Louis died in April 2022 two days after collapsing during recess at Charter Oak International Academy. His parents, who said his death was preventable, are suing the town.Contributed photo / The Pierre Louis Family

Interim Superintendent Andrew Morrow said in a statement that Romeo’s death has “deeply affected” the school community.

“The death of a child is a devastating and unimaginable loss, and our thoughts are with the family and friends of Romeo Pierre Louis,” Morrow said. “This tragedy has deeply affected the Charter Oak International Academy community, and the school district continues to make grief support and emotional assistance available to any student or educator who needs it.”

West Hartford was served the lawsuit on Wednesday, one year after Romeo collapsed. In a statement, Dallas Dodge, corporation counsel for the town, declined to comment due to the pending litigation.

“The death of a child under any circumstance is a tragedy, and we extend our condolences to the family and friends of Romeo,” Dodge said. “Out of respect for the legal process, the town and the Board of Education will not comment further.”

According to the lawsuit, other children warned the supervising teachers about Romeo’s situation, but they didn’t respond for 10 minutes because students often played a game called “play dead.”

“By the time the teachers … realized that Romeo was not playing dead and needed emergency medical treatment — it was too late, and Romeo’s life could no longer be saved,” the lawsuit stated.

The lawsuit claims that if  the school employees followed the town’s own policies and procedures, “Romeo would have received the necessary medical attention he needed and would have survived.”

Romeo was later transported to the Connecticut Children’s hospital, where he died two days later on April 7, just weeks shy of his sixth birthday, according to the lawsuit. The family’s website said he died from heart complications.

On Wednesday afternoon — one year after Romeo collapsed — his parents, along with family and friends, held a silent vigil outside of Charter Oak International Academy. The group, wearing white to symbolize Romeo’s purity, carried signs with the young boy’s photo on them. Other signs included the words “Pay attention” and “Listen to our children.” After school dismissed, the group placed flowers where Romeo collapsed.

“We know that nothing will bring our son back,” said Romeo’s mother, Chantel Pierre Louis. “All we can do is keep his memory in our hearts and do what we can so this doesn’t happen to another child. Listen to our children.”

1200x0 - Teachers thought a CT child was playing dead, but after about 10 minutes, ‘it was too late,’ lawsuit says
D’Meza Shultz Pierre Louis, the father of Romeo Pierre Louis, holds a sign with his son’s photo on it outside of Charter Oak International Academy in West Hartford on Wednesday. Louis, along with his family and friends, held a vigil for his son, who died a year ago after collapsing to the ground during recess. His parents filed a lawsuit against the town, calling his death preventable.Michael Walsh / Hearst Connecticut Media

According to a West Hartford police incident report, school security footage showed Romeo had been lying on the ground for approximately nine minutes before one of the supervising teachers approached him, checked for a pulse and noticed he had stopped breathing.

The first responding teacher told police “she was approached by students who stated to her that (Romeo) was acting strangely/playing funny/teasing,” according to the incident report.

The report also stated “officers were advised that the child was found by other children whom stated they at first believed the child to be pretending to sleep. The children later suspected he was not pretending to sleep and was unconscious.”

Two of the teachers acknowledged to police the “play dead” game, which they said involved students falling to the ground, with one saying it was “unfortunately” played by students, the incident report stated.

According to the report, the first teacher radioed for the other teachers who were outside and they carried Romeo to the nurse’s office. Police said the school’s nurse began applying first aid, including performing CPR and the use of an AED, the report stated.

At 11:29 a.m., 35 minutes after Romeo collapsed, police said he was transported to the hospital with CPR in progress. After arriving at the hospital, police said hospital staff reported Romeo regained a pulse, attempted breathing on his own and was stabilized. The police report said Romeo died on April 7, 2022 from natural causes. An autopsy revealed the cause of death was cardiac channelopathy brugada syndrome.

In interviews with Romeo’s classmates and after reviewing security camera footage, police noted Romeo collapsed suddenly.

“The facts provided by all the children were consistent and did not differ in any material way,” the report said. “All of the children stated that (Romeo) was running around playing freeze tag and then fell and stopped breathing. None of the children mentioned anything about seeing him bump his head, ingest anything or say anything, which could lead to a possible indicator as to why (Romeo) collapsed. There were no signs of trauma, falling or anything else, which would indicate what caused his eventual collapse.”

The state Department of Children and Families received a report of the case, but didn’t accept it, saying the case “does not meet statutory definition of abuse/neglect/at risk.”

Teachers thought a CT child was playing dead, but after about 10 minutes, ‘it was too late,’ lawsuit says
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