An Ontario teacher has been charged in the death of a student who drowned on a field trip last summer, police said Thursday as the boy’s family expressed relief at the development.
Fifteen-year-old Jeremiah Perry was on the trip to Algonquin Provincial Park with other students from Toronto’s C.W. Jefferys Collegiate Institute last July when he went for an evening swim and disappeared underwater. His body was found by a police underwater rescue unit the next day.
Nicholas Mills, who taught at the school, was charged Wednesday with criminal negligence causing death, said Ontario Provincial Police Const. Catherine Yarmel.
The 54-year-old teacher from Caledon, Ont., was responsible for co-ordinating the trip, Yarmel said.
“The OPP conducted a thorough and professional investigation, which included over 100 interviews, along with the execution of one search warrant and four production orders,” Yarmel said.
The boy’s father welcomed news of the charge, which came about a year after police began a criminal probe into Perry’s death.
“This last year has felt like an eternity for my family and I, but we understand that it takes time to fully investigate a tragedy like this,” Joshua Anderson said in a statement released through his lawyer.
“We are relieved that the investigation has resulted in criminal charges being laid against the teacher who organized and led Jeremiah’s trip. We believe these charges are warranted under the circumstances.”
Anderson added that while nothing can bring back his son, he hopes the case will be an important step “in ensuring that a tragedy like this never happens again on a school trip.”
The Toronto District School Board said weeks after Perry’s death that he was among 15 of 32 students on the trip who had not passed a mandatory swim test.
John Malloy, the board’s director of education, has said an initial swim test took place in a lake, and that students who did not pass the first test should have been required to take a second test at school. But, he said, the second test was neither provided nor offered.
In a statement Thursday, the board said it was troubled by findings last summer that critical safety requirements were allegedly not followed by the teacher supervising the trip.
Since Perry’s death, the board said it has implemented new procedures that include school principals having to see a list of students who pass or fail a swim test before a trip, and parents having to be notified of the results.
“Today’s criminal charges limit what we can comment on, however, we can say that we hold Jeremiah’s family in our thoughts at this difficult time and we will continue to support them in any way we can,” the statement said.
The board said that Mills has been on “home assignment” since Perry’s death.
“The TDSB can now resume its internal investigation, which was suspended last year at the direction of the OPP,” it said.
The Ontario College of Teachers said Thursday that Mills is a teacher in good standing and added that it will start its own investigation now that criminal charges have been laid. The college website says Mills earned his certificate in 1998.
Perry’s death also led the province to review outdoor education policies for every school board in the province.
That review, released in May, recommended boards develop guidelines for monitoring compliance with safety procedures and create a support centre that would give staff standardized access to information on safety guidelines and other resources.
Toronto Mayor John Tory said Thursday that communities “have an obligation to keep kids safe.”
“I went to the funeral for that boy and I met his family and I stood next to his casket quite frankly and it was just one of those things where you said to yourself that kind of thing shouldn’t happen,” Tory said.
Mills is scheduled to make his first court appearance in Toronto on Sept. 11.