Live 5 Investigates: Retention pond safety on school properties

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A second fence has been added to a retention pond on a Charleston County School property which was the site of a near drowning this year, according to a district spokesman.

In May, there was only one fence separating the playground and retention pond on the Ashley River Creative Arts campus, that's in West Ashley off Wallace School Road.

Charleston Police believe a 6-year-old special needs boy climbed over the fence at the school, nearly drowning in the pond.

District spokesman Andrew Pruitt said Wednesday afternoon a second fence was added and completed June 26 to "serve as an extra safety measure for that specific retention pond."

"The little fellow already went in the water," said a 911 caller on May 16. "They're trying to do CPR."

Emotional 911 calls from May 16 describe the chaotic scene at Ashley River Creative Arts in West Ashley.

Supplemental reports from Charleston police state a 6-year-old special needs student was found in a retention pond, face down, with his head pointed toward the playground.

"He's gonna come back, the water is coming out," the caller said. "He's coming."

Charleston police believe the boy climbed over a locked six-foot fence separating the pond from the playground.

Documents from the Charleston County School District received July 19, show a map of the school property.

The distance between that pond and the playground measure out to roughly 50-feet, which is less than the length of a bowling lane.

"It depends on the property," said Dorchester District 2 maintenance foreman Donald Nuzum. "It's where we can fit them in."

It's Nuzum's job to oversee all of the repair work on school properties.

DD2 has detailed reports for the 19 retention ponds on its campuses.

Those reports are done twice a year, in the summer and winter, and list everything from downed trees on fences to repair work.

On July 18, the maintenance team for William Reeves Elementary was busy repairing the fence to the kindergarten playground. It got new hinges and a new padlock which Nuzum said is standard for DD2 schools.

"Student safety throughout the district is number one," he said. "There's no backseat to that."

The padlocks are also standard for retention pond fences.

Through the Freedom of Information Act, Live 5 News requested data from the seven school districts in the Lowcountry.

A lot of information was requested, including maps of all the school properties with retention ponds and the number of incidents involving students and retention ponds.

Dorchester District 2 has 19 retention ponds, no incidents.

Berkeley County broke its data down into retention and detention ponds.

A spokeswoman for the district said retention ponds hold a specific amount of water indefinitely which can be used for irrigation and landscaping.

A detention pond is a low lying area designed to temporarily hold a set amount of water while slowing draining to somewhere else.

Of the district's more than 50 ponds, they had no incidents involving children.

Colleton County has seven ponds among its 11 schools, they've had no incidents.

Dorchester District 4 received the request, but never sent the information.

Williamsburg County never acknowledged the request in the first place, however eventually sent a response late Tuesday afternoon. Documents state WCSD has one school with two retention ponds on the property, there have been no incidents.

Charleston County has 45 ponds among its 86 schools and programs.

On May 24, a FOIA was submitted to district officials following the near drowning at Ashley River on May 16. The FOIA asked for the location of every retention pond on school properties. On July 19, CCSD officials sent a packet of information, in it describes another near drowning involving a child and a retention pond.

District officials say on April 5, 2016, two boys were playing around with a jumbo tractor tire on the football practice field at R.B. Stall during a baseball game.

One of the boys got in the tire, and the other pushed him down the hill. According to the CCSD document, the tire rolled down the hill, across the access road, and splashed into the retention pond which was not fenced in.

The boy was saved by the school's athletic trainer.

R.B. Stall's athletics director posted a photo to his twitter page showing the trainer in soaked clothes with the caption, "Stall athletic trainer Anna Dean saves a visiting fan from drowning. @RBStall_Wilson @RBStallHS"

Dean was also awarded the Behind the Scene Hero Award in June 2016 by the Charleston County School District for saving the boy from drowning.

While we don't know if CPR was needed in this case, it was at Ashley River.

"C'mon buddy. There ya go," said a voice in another 911 call from May 16. "Get it out. C'mon buddy, c'mon."

Charleston police reports state the 6-year-old was given CPR by two teacher assistants and a school coach.

This prompted more questions specifically whether the districts require all staff to be certified in CPR. Six out of the seven districts that responded they do not require all staff to be certified.

"We have people at all schools who are trained, but not all staff are trained," said Alan Walters with the Georgetown County School District. "We have emergency response teams at every school."

Alan Walters is in charge of safety and risk management with Georgetown County Schools.

He said most districts have emergency teams who responded to different situations.

"Mainly it's logistics [why all staff isn't trained]," he said. "Recently we did a class where we brought in more of our staff as CPR instructors to teach classes. But with a district of our size and 1,400 employees, and having to do it every two years - you wind up doing 700 people a year."

While not all staff may be CPR certified, what Georgetown does make sure of is a full-time teacher out on the playground with the students at all times.

Someone who knows the children.

If an emergency were to happen, the district has a plan in place to get information out as quickly as possible.

"We have a radio system that we use, so that when the teachers are out on the playground they have this," Walters said. "Not only can they contact the front office, but they also have emergency channels on it that can broadcast district wide."

A spokesman for the State Department of Education said Wednesday staff members are not required to be CPR certified with the exception of school nurses.

According to SchoolCPR, South Carolina is among 30 states to fall under this category. In 13 states, CPR is mandatory in some form for teachers.

Requests to speak with the Charleston County School District regarding the two incidents and its safety plans were not immediately returned.

We do know of an additional safety measure added to Ashley River Creative last week, more surveillance cameras. After the incident in May, Charleston police confirmed 15 cameras at the school weren't working. According to Charleston Police reports, officers believe if the cameras were functioning it would not have shown the portion of the playground near the retention pond due to the gym blocking the view.

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