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Anne Arundel County Board of Education Hit with Lawsuit After Student Chokes to Death

— January 29, 2021

Arundel County Board of Education was recently hit with a wrongful death lawsuit after a student choked on a glove in class and died.

The parents of a 17-year-old Central Special student are suing the Anne Arundel County Board of Education after the student, Bowen Levy, choked on a glove in class and died. In addition to the board of education, the suit also names the board president and the principal of Central Special School as defendants. According to the suit, the “board’s negligence resulted in their son’s death.” 

Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via
Gavel and two hardbound books on wooden table; image by Succo, via

In filing the lawsuit, the child’s parents, Bryan and Tanya Levy are seeking damages in the excess of $75,000 and a jury trial. When commenting on the suit, Mr. Levy said the “school system’s ‘systemic’ problem providing adequate support, staff supervision and training, along with a lack of response to multiple requests for information on an internal investigation into their son’s death, pushed the Levy’s to sue Central Special Principal Natalie Marston, the county school board and its president Melissa Ellis for negligence, breach of contract, survival action and wrongful death.” He added:

“I can’t bring my son back…What I care most about is making sure that this doesn’t happen (to) anyone else’s child.”

Levy further stated that he “believes the negligence and lack of support for special needs kids that occurred at Central Special School is a county-wide issue extending beyond Bowen’s school.” So far, he has received numerous emails and phone calls from people asking him to keep fighting “for children with disabilities to be safe in school.”

Shortly after Bowen’s death, George Arlotto, the Anne Arundel County Public Schools Superintendent “requested 11 additional permanent substitutes at the county’s three specialty developmental schools, including Ruth Parker Eason, Marley Glen, and Central Special.” This was a move to help improve staffing shortages. In February 2020, the school board approved “an increase of $1.6 million to the budget for nine additional special education teachers, 12 special education teacher assistants, and 11 permanent substitutes.” Bob Mosier, a spokesperson for the school district, said, “We and especially the staff at Central Special School continue to grieve the loss of Bowen.”

What happened, though? How did such an incident occur? According to the Maryland Department of Social Services, Bowen’s death “likely involved child neglect.” The agency added that “he died as a result of the systemic failure at Central Special School.” According to the lawsuit, “Bowen’s classroom would have a teacher, two teacher aides and an assigned one-to-one person for Bowen to quickly intervene if he put something in his mouth.” On the day of the incident, “his one-to-one aide was absent, the teacher had left in the afternoon and there were substitutes.According to a report from DSS, “when a substitute is used, they are asked to review ‘sub plans,’ but one staff member said she did not review the plan that day.”

When commenting on the suit, attorneys representing the Levy family said:

“The school system knew that in addition to autism, Bowen suffered from pica, a compulsive condition which caused him to swallow and eat non-food items. Bowen’s pica was well known to the Anne Arundel County school system, which promised to provide him 1:1 supervision, a promise his parents relied upon. Anne Arundel County Public Schools broke that promise.”

Due to his disabilities, Bowen had an Individualized Education Program or IEP. IEPs are documents that outline “services or resources at school for children with disabilities.” As part of his IEP at Central Special, Bowen was supposed to have one-on-one adult supervision at all times to “address safety concerns stemming from his pica diagnosis.” Because he did not have that the day of the incident, his parents argue the school board breached their contract “for failing to supervise Bowen and protect him from harm.

The DSS report and lawsuit allege Central Special was vastly understaffed in 2019, which resulted in a lack of supervision in the classroom. As a result, Bowen was able to “get ahold of a rubber glove and swallow it.” He continued to chew on gloves until he choked on the third. According to the suit, “he lost oxygen for 10 minutes, fell unconscious and died five days later in the hospital.”


Family of Central Special student who died after choking in class sues Anne Arundel County Public Schools

Bowen Levy’s family files lawsuit against board of education, principal of Central Special

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