Clark-Pleasant parents ask board for answers after student drowning

Two months after a Whiteland student drowned in the school pool, parents in the school district say they feel school officials have been too quiet about the incident.

Alaina Dildine, 15, died in the Whiteland Community High School pool on May 16, after she had an apparent seizure and drowned. Dildine, who was swimming laps in physical education class at the time she drowned, went unnoticed in the pool for 52 minutes until another student in the next class found her, a report from the Johnson County Sheriff’s Office said.

A group of parents with students currently in high school or heading into their freshman year attended the Clark-Pleasant School Board meeting Tuesday evening to question members and the superintendent about the drowning.

They all wore purple in support of Alaina Dildine, who had epilepsy, and advocated for spreading awareness about the disorder. The color purple and purple ribbons represent epilepsy awareness. Victoria Dildine, Alaina’s mother, attended the meeting as well. She didn’t speak, but she sat in the front row, holding a photo of her daughter.

Miranda Fikes spoke first at the meeting. Her son was at the pool in the following class when Alaina Dildine was discovered. She recounted the call when he told her what happened and asked if he could go home.

“My son, in that moment, he matured and aged more than any teenager ever should,” Fikes said. “He handled it better than I did. I’m just wanting to know, what are we doing to protect the future children coming through this school?”

She asked why the physical education teacher who was on the pool deck at the time was still employed by Clark-Pleasant schools. The teacher has been on paid administrative leave from the school since May 17, according to a June personnel report from the district. The lifeguard on the pool deck at the time was terminated in June.

School Board President Dave Thompson and Superintendent Tim Edsell confirmed that the PE teacher is still employed and has a valid teaching license. They could not answer further questions about the teacher’s future, but said several times they were “working on it.”

“Speaking as an educator myself, I don’t know how I could go back into the classroom with that kind of tragedy,” Fikes said. “… I can tell you my children do not feel safe.”

“I can’t speak on behalf of every child, but good luck getting students to go to her class.”

Later in the meeting, Fikes also said the board is “really good at being stoic” hearing emotional testimony from parents.

Other parents who spoke also asked about the teacher, and what changes were being made to the pool safety policy. Most comments and questions were answered by the board or Edsell by saying they are working on revising a new pool safety policy.

Melissa Buteau, a parent with an incoming freshman, asked who was in charge of checking if lifeguards at the school have proper certification. Thompson said no one at the school checked lifeguard certifications, and it was the lifeguard’s responsibility to maintain those. That is a policy the school will change, he said.

Buteau also noted she found out through the American Red Cross that the PE teacher’s CPR and lifeguard certifications expired. Thompson said those expired in June, and she was still properly certified in training at the time of the drowning in May.

When asked again if the teacher would be returning to school this month without a lifeguard license, Thompson said, “that’s an ongoing process.”

Sharna Yates, a former Clark-Pleasant parent and current employee, said she didn’t feel like school officials were taking responsibility for the drowning.

“We teach kids about responsibility. You own it … when you make mistakes, you take responsibility for it, you move forward,” Yates said. “I just have not felt that from our school district with regards to Alaina … and I think continuing to employ people doesn’t show us taking responsibility.”

Parent Kelsey Smith similarly said she felt parents were left in the dark about next steps after Alaina Dildine’s death. She questioned why the board had hardly mentioned Alaina in their last couple of board meetings, and why discussion about a new pool policy hasn’t been an agenda item.

“I Googled Whiteland High School to find the school calendar to get it implemented on my phone, and the third search down says ‘Whiteland High School drowning.’ To me, that is absolutely unacceptable,” Smith said. “That is not something we want to be known for in our school district.”

Preventing another drowning should be a top priority, she said. She suggested the school should adopt a new policy and have teachers and lifeguards drill the safety protocols, such as headcounts and checking the pool.

“We have to practice this over and over and over again. So this is natural for our students to be safe, and it is natural for teachers to do a head count,” Smith said.

Edsell said during the meeting that working on changes to pool safety has been a priority since he started, and since June when a committee began working on revising protocols. He also said that the policy will be put in place before any classes will swim in the pool.

Parent Holly Bennett also said many parents are concerned about the lack of information about the next steps for the pool, especially parents of freshmen who will have to swim in the pool for PE class, she said.

“They are concerned about what effects it might have on their student if they’re required to swim in a pool where such a tragic accident happened,” Bennett said.

She tries to refrain from engaging in rumors and hearsay about the incident spread on social media, she said. But Bennett said she thinks a lot of the talk on social media stems from parents not knowing what is going on with school starting in one week.

“I know we’re working on those (pool policies), and I know we’ll make those available. But I think they even need to know before school starts. They’re really starting to worry because school starts next week,” Bennett said. “We don’t know what’s in place, and we don’t know what’s happening.”

Edsell said during the meeting that when the new pool safety policies are ready, school officials will send those out to the public for viewing.