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School's negligence injures child -- covering it up was a mistake

Our schools are increasingly welcoming to children with serious disabilities. Bringing all kids into the mainstream has been a positive change, but it does add complexity. Kids with disabilities and serious medical conditions often need additional help -- and every child is different. This complexity has costs.

No one expects to live in a world where nobody makes mistakes, but responsible people know what they should do when they make one -- especially when the mistake serious enough that a child is injured. Even if it could get them in trouble, responsible people tell the truth because it's the only way to minimize the harm they may have done to others.

That principle is painfully clear now to the parents of a special-needs child in another state. They understand that it was probably an accident when someone cleaned their daughter's feeding tube with a bleach solution, poisoning her and leading to numerous medical complications. What they can't forgive is that no one was willing to say what happened -- even to provide crucial information necessary to treat her.

Did school staff put liability fears ahead of saving a child's life?

The tragic mistake occurred last September at an elementary school. The fifth-grader has disabilities that render her non-verbal. She also uses a wheelchair and receives nutritional formula through a gastronomy tube. Once the formula has left the tube and entered the stomach, a caregiver typically flushes the residue into the stomach using sterile water.

According to the parents' lawsuit against the school, someone at the school mistakenly used bleach solution to flush the formula residue into the little girl's stomach, sending bleach burning directly into her digestive system. When she began vomiting up white chunks and "looking kind of purple," a school employee named Jack left a voice mail for her mother.

Yet no one called 911. No one contacted a poison control center or took the child to a hospital. When her mom arrived and found the girl in the care of the school nurse, she could smell the bleach. But when she asked what had happened, no one volunteered any information.

Only Jack revealed anything. He followed the mom to the parking lot and told her that bleach solution might have been used in her feeding tube, but he wouldn't say how much or who was responsible.

As a result of the negligence and cover up, the little girl suffered serious medical complications, according to the parents' lawsuit including aspiration pneumonia, ulcers, severe gastritis, and permanent damage to her trachea, esophagus, stomach and lungs.

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