Chesterfield County Public School’s Ongoing Gross Negligence Causes The Death of Seven-Year Old Amarria Johnson

Jan 10, 2012 by

Superintendent Marcus Newsome

On the morning of January 2, 2012, Laura Pendleton sent her seven-year old, first-grade daughter, Amarria Johnson to school at Hopkins Road Elementary in Chesterfield, Virginia.  That would be the last time that she would see her daughter alive as what is by far a parent’s worst nightmare began to unfold that afternoon.

While at school, Amarria suffered an allergic reaction to a peanut while reportedly on the playground, during recess.   Amarria had a documented history of severe food allergies, and it has been confirmed by Chesterfield detectives as well as her mother that she had an emergency allergy plan on file at the school, even though the school district refused to confirm this fact.

So, the question that everyone is asking, except for Chesterfield County Public Schools, is why did Amarria loose her life when there was a plan in place to save her in the event that an allergic reaction did occur?

Laura Pendleton states that the school contacted her via phone when her daughter came to the school clinic, where a clinic aide, not a school nurse, was.  She also states that she was the one that had to tell the school staff to follow Amarria’s emergency allergy plan and to call 911 when the she was told of Amarria’s symptoms.   Furthermore, she advises that the school was suppose to give Amarria Benadryl as a primary intervention for her allergic reactions.  Reports indicate that neither Amarrie’s emergency plan, nor her medication were administered by school staff as was required.

By 2:30 p.m, on January 2, 2012, Amarria had suffered cardiac arrest and was pronounced dead at a Richmond area hospital.   Her mother arrived at the hospital after Amarria had died.

Before Amarria’s body was released to the county coroner, Chesterfield School officials began to release propaganda regarding the death of the child due to what was obviously negligence on their part.  The evening of her death, the district released a statement advising parents that it was “their” responsibility to notify the school district of any medical conditions that their children may have, which is usually done at the beginning of the year when every student is required to complete a medical form for the school that lists possible allergies.   Furthermore, in what many have identified as one of the most insensitive and negligent comments by a school official, Shawn Smith, the district spokesman, stated that Amarria died due to a “pre-existing” condition.

Smith’s statements were particularly disturbing due to the fact that he is not a trained medical professional and the cause of death had not been released to the public.  This did not stop the inhumane, callous, and desperate comments of a district that clearly realized that their gross negligence, which resulted in the death of an innocent child,  could no longer be hidden or covered up by their high-paid attorneys, press releases, or unethical administrators.

Amarria’s death, or murder, as some would assert, is the result of a long history of the failure of Chesterfield County Public Schools employees and officials to comply with district, state, federal, and most of all; civil rights laws that are in place to protect children with special needs, children of color, children of economically-disadvantaged backgrounds, and children with medical conditions.  For years, the Chesterfield School Advocates for Children, CSAC, has confronted and held Chesterfield School officials, employees, and school board members accountable for their gross negligence which has denied its students their civil right to a safe and secure academic setting; being nurtured by competent and caring professionals.

Unfortunately, in Chesterfield County Schools, just like many other school districts throughout the nation, competence is optional, caring and compassion are extinct, and protecting the civil rights of our children and families is a foreign concept.  District officials, school board members, school administrators, and employees are rewarded for “covering up” instead of “cleaning up,” as is appears to be the case in Amarria’s death, (murder).

Chesterfield School’s leaders; Superintendent Marcus Newsome, Director of Special Education, Mike Asip; Assistant Superintendent Lyle Evans; school board members, and many of the district’s employees, do not hesitate to violate the law, violate civil rights, falsify documentation, fabricate statements, or even blame a parent for the death of their own child when the school is clearly at fault; if it means that they do not have to be held accountable for their actions or admit that they were wrong.   Unfortunately, state agencies like the Virginia Department of Education, do very little to hold school districts accountable, and even less to impose meaningful consequences when districts violate the law resulting in the welfare of children being severely compromised.

The public consensus is that the Chesterfield police and Commonwealth Attorney’s office conducted a “keystone cop” investigation of Amarria’s death in less than five days;  then, before she could even be buried, in record time,  “determined” that no one would be charged criminally for her death that was clearly the result of negligence by the district.  To give a false sense of validation to their findings, the police issued a statement indicating that neither the student that allegedly gave her the peanut, Ammarie’s mother, or district staff would be charged, which poses another question, why would a student or her mother be charged with a criminal act when the school staff was responsible for implementing Amarria’s emergency allergy plan?

Little Amarrie did her part.  She ran to the adults that were suppose to help her, instead, they failed her, and now, she is dead.   Chesterfield County Public Schools clearly has no remorse, nor do they feel any obligation to change their policies, training, or any other aspects of their school operations.  In the district’s eyes, Amarrie’s life does not warrant immediate and drastic changes regarding how the district does business. Instead, Chesterfield Schools slipped into their norm, “deny, lie, cover-up,  deny, lie, cover up, again” mode.

I attended the celebration of Amarria Johson’s life on Saturday.   I must state, that as a mother, advocate, educator, and civil rights activist; I was deeply disheartened at the injustice surrounding the circumstances of her death.   I must also state that I was and continue to be enraged by the fact that a school district, along with the help of the Chesterfield police and Commonwealth Attorney William Davenport’s office, would try to “wash its hands” of the negligent death of such a beautiful and innocent child that trusted Hopkins Road Elementary School staff with her life, literally, and they failed her.

As a mother, my heart broke as I watched Laura Pendleton, Amarria’s mother, desperately and repeatedly plead with the funeral service director to open Amarria’s casket at the conclusion of the service, just so she could see her child’s face one more time before her body was placed in the crypt. Her mother trusted the staff of Hopkins Elementary School with the life of our child, and they failed her as well.

As an advocate, I became enraged when I realized that less than five days previously, this mother had sent her most precious possession, her child, to what should have been one of the safest places on earth, a school, only to be standing over a small casket with her body in it five days later, not knowing the details of the last moments of her child’s life, and not understanding how the district could have allowed this.

I had the opportunity to speak with Amarria’s grandfather, Mr. Leroy Green, who is as devastated as his daughter is regarding his granddaughter’s death.  I was disgusted, but not surprised to learn that, on Tuesday, the day after Amarria’s death, Mr. Green went to the school to find out what happened.  He shared that he was told by the school’s administrators that they could not speak to him.   How much more heartless can anyone be?   Less than twenty-four hours previously, his granddaughter arrived at the school healthy and left dead, and no one can speak to him to answer his questions regarding the last moments of his granddaughter’s life.

Amarria’s death is the tragic climax in an accumulation of a series of institutionalized and systematic gross negligence, abuse, retaliation, cover-up, intimidation, health/disciplinary/educational plan violations, and civil rights violations that have become common place and the norm throughout Chesterfield County Public Schools; from the school board, to Superintendent Newsome, to Director of Special Education Mike Asip, to Assistant Superintendent Lyle Evans, who was also involved in a child abuse cover up in Henrico County Public Schools prior to going to Chesterfield.

We are calling on all parents, students, educators, community activists, and others to demand justice for Amarria.  No child should die because of negligence and no one be held accountable.   Amarria’s life is worth more than that, and we, as a community of those that seek and fight for justice, must force Chesterfield County Public Schools to take accountability for their gross negligence that has forced an innocent and precious child to pay the ultimate price while her family is left to pick up the pieces after being robbed of any form of justice by those authorities that have the ability and responsibility to provide it.

Reverend Louis Kelly, who is a family friend that gave a profound eulogy for Amarria, stated that her life “must not be in vain.”  Since Chesterfield Schools has clearly not learned from one of its most grave, fatal, and gross errors; we, as a community will have to be Amarria’s voice and obtain justice on her behalf before another child is murdered through the district’s intentional ignorance, which is a direct result of their arrogance.  We must make Chesterfield Schools safe again, for every child, in every situation, no matter what school they are in. We must hold school officials responsible for failing to create a safe and nurturing environment for all children.  To that end, many parents, students, and advocates are calling for a federal investigation of Amarrie’s death, as it is clear that a thorough investigation has not and will not be completed at the county, or even state levels.

Chesterfield School officials must understand that they can no longer get away with abusing and neglecting any child or intimidating and/or violating the civil rights of their families without consequence, even when the local and state officials turn a blind eye and deaf ear to the innocent blood of our children that is in each of their hands.

The BIble has a very fitting and powerful word for those that harm children with no remorse or accountability, it says, “it is better for him to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around his neck.”

No matter what actions Chesterfield County Public Schools takes to “wash their hands” of the negligent death of Amarria, her blood will forever be on their hands.

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1 Comment

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    David L Brower

    Amarria’s death is unfortunate and my heart goes out to Amarria’s family. Denigrating school officials, however, will not bring this child’s precious life back. The facts of the case will be adjudicated via legal processes rather than via the press.

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