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Parents file legal claims against DMUSD after their second grader left school with high blood alcohol level

The student attended second grade at Del Mar Hills Academy.
The student attended second grade at Del Mar Hills Academy.
(Karen Billing)

The school district concluded that the student ingested hand sanitizer, but the parents allege her water bottle had been tampered with

Two parents filed legal claims against the Del Mar Union School District after their daughter, who was in second grade at the time, left school on the afternoon of April 1, 2022, with a blood-alcohol level of 0.23%.

Legal claims are typically a prerequisite to a lawsuit against a government body such as a school district. Requiring legal claims before a lawsuit is filed gives a school district the opportunity to pay a claim or try to negotiate a settlement without litigation.

An initial claim filed in June was rejected, and two additional claims that were filed in September are still pending. Shavon Lindley, the student’s mother, said she’s still hoping for more information about what happened that day in April before making a decision on whether to file a lawsuit.

A school district investigation concluded that the student ingested hand sanitizer by licking it off her hands, according to documents provided to the Del Mar Times and obtained through a public records request.

The student, whose name the Del Mar Times is withholding due to privacy concerns, left school at Del Mar Hills Academy feeling dizzy, according to the legal claims. Lindley emailed her daughter’s second grade teacher from the emergency room at Rady Children’s Hospital asking for any information. A substitute was in class that day.

“Trying to see if anything happened today to help the doctors figure it out,” she wrote, according to emails provided by the district. “Did she fall? Eat anything different??”

Doctors eventually diagnosed the 8-year-old with a 0.23% blood alcohol level, equal to almost three times the legal limit to drive, according to the legal claims and a police report.

Lindley said in an interview that her daughter told her that the water in her water bottle tasted like lemonade when she drank it in school that day before experiencing symptoms. The legal claim filed in June alleged that the water bottle had been tampered with.

The American Association of Poison Control Centers reported a 70% spike in cases due to hand sanitizer consumption when comparing January to August 2020 to the same time period in 2019, with the COVID-19 pandemic fueling a surge in disinfectant products. The most cases by far involved children up to age 5, but ages 6-12 also accounted for many of the cases.

Poison control centers, the CDC and other organizations have continued to warn about children eating hand sanitizer, especially while they’re in school.

Del Mar Hills Academy was using a 75% ethyl alcohol hand sanitizer without any special scent. But School Nurse Beth Anderson wrote in an internal email that “if she had the sanitizer on her hands and lips and then drank from the bottle it could indeed taste lemony.”

“We discussed that there is a higher concentration of alcohol in hand sanitizers and that if she was indeed eating it, that could raise the blood alcohol level to the .23 with very little,” Anderson said in another email.

But based on her daughter’s account, Lindley said she still thinks the water bottle had been tampered with. The district took steps to make sure the student’s water bottle was secure and she wasn’t consuming hand sanitizer, emails show, but Lindley said she thinks the district hasn’t done enough to warn parents and take steps to prevent a repeat incident.

“My daughter is not protected right now because nobody is doing anything extra,” Lindley said. “And other kids are in danger of that happening to them.”

Andrea Sleet, principal of Del Mar Hills Academy, said in an email that “safety of our students is always a top priority of the District.”

“Through investigation, we found out one of our students likely consumed hand sanitizer,” she said. “As a result, we took measures to make sure that student no longer had access to hand sanitizer at our school. We are not aware of any other student consuming hand sanitizer.”

Sleet said the district’s “investigation and evidence does not support the conclusion that someone tampered with the water bottle.”

The family alleged in the legal claim that the school “failed to provide medical treatment to Claimant despite her exhibiting obvious medical symptoms,” including dizziness and falling over, and “jeopardized a child’s life to an extreme extent.”

Two additional legal claims that were filed on Sept. 28, one each for the student’s parents, allege that the school and district were “negligent” and caused “extreme emotional distress.”

The dollar amount of the claims that were filed is a little more than $1 million, which includes compensation for nearly $27,000 in medical expenses.


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