Staunton family makes formal complaint about school where son suffered fatal injury

Ciaran and Rory Staunton.
Photo courtesy The Rory Staunton Foundation
By Bill Parry

The parents of Rory Staunton, the 12-year-old Sunnyside boy who died five years ago after contracting sepsis at a private school in Jackson Heights, are challenging the accreditation of the school.

Ciaran and Orlaith Staunton submitted a formal complaint Monday to the New York Association of Independent Schools and requested an investigation of the Garden School’s lack of health and safety protocols.

On March 27, 2012, Rory cut his elbow playing basketball at the school. His wound reopened the following day and his gym teacher applied band aids without washing the cut. The boy was not sent to the nurse and his parents were not informed.

The Stauntons charge the Garden School had no protocols in place to ensure that cuts were treated properly and the staff was not made aware of the potential dangers of these types of wounds. Following the boy’s death from the bacterial infection April 1, 2012, the school refused to provide any information to the family about Rory’s last days at the school.

“At every step of this very painful journey that began the day Rory returned home from Garden School with a scraped elbow, our primary goal has been to do everything we can to avoid another family suffering the untimely and unnecessary loss of a family member due to sepsis,” Ciaran Staunton said. “We have been engaged in litigation with Garden School in an effort to encourage the school to evaluate whether and how it maintains a clean and safe environment for students. We also seek to improve the manner in which staff and professionals treat students injured while at school.”

As a private school founded in 1923, Garden School is not regulated by the U.S. or New York State Departments of Education, and relies on accreditation from member organizations such as the New York Association of Independent Schools to address public and student family concerns about the quality of the education and environment being provided.

“We wish to stress that we were offered settlements, which would have meant we could not speak out and have refused to accept them,” Staunton said. “It has become clear to Orlaith and me that external pressure to acknowledge and improve the school environment in these important areas is needed. Garden School regrettably is unwilling to change or even acknowledge its failings.”

The New York Association of Independent Schools has taken the position that it will not consider an accreditation challenge while a complaining party maintains a lawsuit against a member school, effectively requiring the Stauntons to choose between pursuing their lawsuit against Garden School or filing an objection to Garden School’s private school accreditation.

“The need to protect other students from the fate that befell our family was always more important than a financial recovery,” Staunton said.

Garden School administration could not be reached for comment.

“If the occasion of a student’s death won’t change Garden School’s practices, then we need to find a way to convince them to change — even if that means dropping our lawsuit in order to achieve that change through a challenge to Garden School’s private school accreditation,” Orlaith Staunton said. “We have also been in contact with the New York State Department of Education. Our son’s experience and our pain and sorrow should never be experienced by another family.”

Attorney Thomas Moore, the Stauntons’ lawyer, deplored what he called the abject failure of the school.

“It has become obvious during the pretrial testimony that the school was grossly negligent in its treatment of Rory,” Moore said. “This was followed by a deliberate and orchestrated effort to cover up the circumstances of Rory’s fall. Surely, parents who entrust, in part, the education and nurturing of their children to others are entitled to better.”

Following Rory’s death, the Stauntons founded the Rory Staunton Foundation to promote education, awareness and rapid diagnosis of sepsis. The organization has successfully led efforts to change the law in New York and other states to implement sepsis detection protocols designed to expedite intervention and reduce sepsis deaths.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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