TAMPA — One year after the death of her 6-year-old son, Kaycee Teets is calling on the Hillsborough County school district to evaluate the way it trains its employees in handling medical emergencies.
Had the staff at Seminole Heights Elementary School called 911 faster or tried to resuscitate first-grader Keith Coty after he collapsed in his classroom and began turning blue, his mother claims that he might still be alive today.
“I trusted the school with my child’s safety,” Teets said. “I trusted them with something very important to me and they let me down in the worst way they possibly could.”
Lawyers for the boy’s family filed a civil rights lawsuit in federal court Friday, claiming that school staff wasn’t properly trained in handling an emergency.
“Another child has died because of the failure of the school district to call 911 and perform CPR and other life-saving measures,” attorney Steven Maher said, during a news conference Friday announcing the lawsuit.
The previous fall, teachers and other school staff members across the district watched a video that included information on how to report an emergency.
In the video, teachers were instructed to either alert the front office first or make the 911 call directly from a cell phone before following up with the front office.
School district officials cannot comment on pending litigation, district spokeswoman Tanya Arja said.
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Maher’s law firm also represented the family of second-grader Isabella Herrera in a legal fight against the district, which ended last year with an $800,000 payout to the family. That case also called into question the school district’s guidelines for employees in reporting an emergency.
The Herrera girl, who had a neuromuscular disorder, died in January 2012, a day after having a medical issue on a school bus. Neither the driver nor an aide called 911 as she turned blue and stopped breathing in her wheelchair. Instead, her mother was called twice.
The Herrera case prompted the school district to revamp its protocol for how staff should call 911 in the event of an emergency on a school bus.
The Coty case is different in that it claims the school district is discriminating against all 200,000-plus Hillsborough County students while the Herrera case claimed the district discriminated against its medically fragile students, Maher said. Here’s what attorneys say happened on Jan. 16, 2014: the Coty boy complained of a severe headache to his teacher. He was sent to the back of the classroom to lay down and started vomiting. The school nurse was called to the room and a voice mail was left for the boy’s mother to come pick him up.
By the time Teets arrived, the boy’s lips were blue and he was unresponsive. The 911 call was placed by an employee in the front office, 34 minutes after Keith first complained about his headache. An emergency medical crew arrived and administered CPR, raising a pulse.
The boy was brought to the emergency room at Saint Joseph’s Hospital, where doctors learned he had suffered a brain hemorrhage. They performed emergency surgery, but the boy had been without oxygen for too long. He died the next day after being taken off life support.
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Teets said her son didn’t have any health issues she was aware of, other than a heart murmur that appeared to have disappeared at the time of a checkup by the family’s cardiologist four months before the boy died.
Teets hopes the lawsuit sparks conversation about the school district’s policies regarding medical emergencies.
“If you see an unresponsive 6-year-old child on the floor who is blue, my response would be to call 911 no matter what policies are at stake,” she said.
During Friday’s press conference the mother closed her eyes with her hands clasped in front of her face, crying softly as she listened to the 911 call from the school’s front desk exactly one year ago. She was accompanied by her husband, Stephen Teets, the boy’s stepfather.
She describes Keith as an intelligent little boy who enjoyed playing sports and was extremely kind, especially to his two younger siblings.
“The main reason I did this was to prevent this from happening to other parents, to prevent kids from dying at school,” Teets said. “My life will never be what my life should be.”