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City to pay teen's funeral expenses

The Baltimore Sun

Mayor Sheila Dixon said yesterday that the city will pay for the funeral of a 17-year-old Northwest Baltimore student who accidentally drowned last week during a school field trip to a remote location deep in the West Virginia woods.

Dixon said the offer is one the city tends to make "for individuals' families in cases like that."

Kenneth Jones, father of the boy of the same name who died, said he will accept the offer but still has unanswered questions concerning the circumstances surrounding his son's drowning. The teenager's funeral will be held tomorrow morning.

"It's not bringing my son back," Jones said of the city's offer. "That's not going to take the pain away. I just want to know the answers as to how they let it happen and where were the adults. You have eight teenagers and three adults. Something is not right about that."

Brian D. Morris, the city school board chairman, called the teen's death a "terrible tragedy" and said "it's a parent's worst nightmare."

But Morris and other city schools officials - apparently concerned about the possibility of litigation - declined to elaborate further on their investigation.

Kenneth and seven others from Independence School Local 1 in Hampden - an alternative public school for students who have struggled in traditional classrooms - left Baltimore a week ago and slept in tents in the woods of Monongahela National Forest in Elkins, W.Va.

A West Virginia State Police investigator said Kenneth, of his own free will, jumped into a frigid pool at the base of a waterfall and drowned. The site was so remote that it took the first rescue workers more than two hours to respond to a phone call for help.

The youth's body was found in about 10 feet of water more than four hours later.

Dixon said she was briefed on the drowning over the weekend and said she agrees with those who have called for the school system to review its field trip policy. Dixon said she expected to receive a more thorough briefing from school officials in the next several days.

"Of course, based on this incident and others that have happened, you always have to review what you're doing and how you're handling it," Dixon said, when asked whether a review of the field trip policy is warranted. "That's something that the school board should be proactive about."

Asked whether she thought the mayor's office should be involved in that review, Dixon said it is primarily the school system's responsibility.

Dixon said her administration is waiting for the details of the school system's internal report as well as the report by the West Virginia State Police.

City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr., who has said he might hold a hearing into the system's policies, said he plans to meet with Charlene Cooper Boston, the city schools interim chief executive officer, this week and that he will make a decision about whether to conduct a hearing after that. Harris is chairman of the council's education, housing, health and human services committee.

Meanwhile, those who knew Kenneth continued to express sorrow over his death. The father said he has received countless cards from his son's classmates.

Petey O'Donnell, who said she tutored Kenneth up to three times a week during the previous school year, said he was a free spirit who loved matching wits with her.brent.jones@baltsun.com john.fritze@baltsun.com

Sun reporter Sara Neufeld contributed to this article.

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