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Anne Arundel Co. Board of Education settles with family of autistic student who died after choking in school

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Posted at 1:45 PM, May 05, 2022

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — The Anne Arundel County Board of Education and family of Bowen Levy have agreed to a $2.5 million settlement over a federal wrongful death lawsuit.

Back in November of 2019, Bowen choked on a rubber glove while attending Central Special School. He died just five days later at the age of 17.

Bowen was autistic and had also been diagnosed with a special disorder called pica. Those suffering from pica are known to compulsively swallow and eat objects, that usually are not edible.

An investigation by the Department of Social Services found neglect on the part of the school system, and ruled that Bowen had died “as a result of the systemic failure at Central Special School.”

RELATED: Bowen Levy's family files lawsuit against board of education, principal of Central Special

On the day Bowen choked on the glove, the school had been severely understaffed. His regular teacher, and an assistant were on leave that afternoon.

A substitute teacher and two high school student volunteers were filling in at the time of the incident, while two other support assistants were in another part of the building helping another student.

It wasn't the only time that day Bowen had gotten his hands on a rubber glove and tried putting it in his mouth. The first time it happened, a staff member saw it and took the glove away.

The Levys have struggled to get answers from the school system on staffing levels, why their son didn't have 1:1 instruction at the time of the incident, and who was investigating the situation on behalf of the school system.

"We can’t bring Bowen back, but we can hopefully prevent this from happening to anyone else moving forward. And we can’t even help make sure of that because no one is telling us anything," said Bryan Levy, Bowen's dad, to WMAR-2 News Mallory Sofastaii in September 2020.

MORE: Ten months after student’s death, school system hasn't answered the family's questions

"Staff members at AACPS special centers are in constant need of gloves to perform their duties throughout the day, and the gloves remained visible and accessible to Bowen on the afternoon of November 5, 2019," School Board President Joanna Tobin and Superintendent George Arlotto said in a joint statement on the settlement. "We believe that is how Bowen accessed the glove that he swallowed later in the day."

Since Levy's death, the school board says it's created 32 new special education positions at their three developmental centers to address ongoing staffing shortages.

As part of the settlement, the school system entered into a consent decree requiring it to implement a Pica Safety Protocol (PSP), providing training to staff working with these students, and being more aware of non-edible items that could pose a threat.

AACPS will also provide 1:1 supervision of any student subject to the protocol and whose IEP stipulates it, and transparency when it comes to staffing that a special committee will oversee.

"Those who cared so deeply for Bowen, most especially his family but also the devoted Central Special educators and staff, will never fully recover from this tragic loss," said Tobin and Arlotto. "We believe that the changes that have and will come about as a result of Bowen’s death will make the educational environment safer for all students."