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Parents sue over drowning of student in Whiteland High School pool

Parents file lawsuit against school in daughter’s death

WHITELAND, Ind. (WISH) — The parents of the student who drowned in a pool during gym class last year at Whiteland Community High School has filed a federal lawsuit against the district, court documents say.

Alaina Dildine, 15, suffered a seizure and drowned while in the high school’s pool on the morning of May 16. She was underwater for 53 minutes before someone noticed, the lawsuit says. She was pulled to the surface but could not be revived.

The Johnson County coroner ruled her death as accidental.

A forensic pathologist who performed Alaina’s autopsy says she died from drowning and a seizure disorder.

According to the lawsuit, during the spring semester of 2023, Alaina was experiencing frequent seizures at school or on a school bus, which were noted in the school nursing records. The suit alleges Alaina had experienced a seizure in January in class; two seizures in March, one in class and one on a bus; two in April, one in class and one on a bus; and one on May 8 during physical education class.

Alaina’s parents, Kyle and Victoria Dildine, filed the lawsuit Wednesday in U.S. District Court in Indianapolis. The lawsuit names the Clark-Pleasant school district, the high school, Superintendent Timothy Edsell, physical education teacher Jana Huffman, and instructional assistant and lifeguard Patrick Schaler as defendants. The lawsuit notes that Schaler did not have a lifeguard certification, though.

An attorney for the family told News 8 in July that the school district fired the lifeguard.

The parents allege the teacher and instructional assistant mandated that Alaina participate in swimming “even though such an activity places children with epilepsy at risk of drowning,” and that her mother had asked if Alaina “could participate in a different way.”

The lawsuit also outlines procedures that were not followed, including the taking of attendance after the class ended and assuring all students had exited the pool. A lawyer for the family has previously said attendance was taken at the start of class.

“According to the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), drowning is the most common cause of death from unintentional injury for people with epilepsy, and children with epilepsy have a 7.5 to 10 times greater risk of drowning in swimming pools than other children,” the lawsuit said. “Parents and caregivers of children with active epilepsy should provide direct supervision around water at all times, including swimming pools and bath tubs. Whenever possible, children with epilepsy should shower instead of bathe and swim only at locations where there is a lifeguard.”

The family is seeking an award to cover the loss of Alaina; medical expenses; counseling for the parents and a sibling; funeral and burial costs; attorney’s fees; and punitive damages.

In July, the Johnson County prosecutor decided not to file charges against the school employees. The family expressed its disappointment in that decision.

Whiteland High School in fiscal year 2023 had 1,868 students, the Indiana Department of Education says.