Phoenix Union’s new travel policy isn’t enough, family says

Phoenix Union’s new travel policy isn’t enough, family says

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The family of a Phoenix teenager said the latest review of rules governing student travel in the Phoenix Union High School District is too little too late after their son was found dead in a lake in 2023. Investigators later considered it as an accidental drowning.

The district drew media attention after 15-year-old Christopher Hampton, who attended Cesar Chavez High School in Phoenix, disappeared during a summer football camp in July 2023. Hampton and other players were attending the camp in the White Mountains at Lakeside Blue Ridge. High and decided to go to Show Low Lake, where Hampton eventually drowned.

Benjamin Taylor, an attorney representing Hampton’s mother, Tonisha Johnson, told The Arizona Republic that the policy revision was not enough to prevent similar tragedies.

“Unfortunately, no amount of policy can help, because if you administrators and coaches don’t follow policy, another drowning like this will happen again,” Taylor said. “So what the family wants is — they don’t want another family to go through another death like this.”

Phoenix Union’s governing board voted unanimously on Feb. 1 to revise its rules governing student travel. The new policy bans swimming, along with several other activities such as scuba diving, rock climbing and zip lining, unless the activity is related to a sport or competition sanctioned by the Arizona Interscholastic Association. It also requires prior approval from the district administration for all water activities.

“PXU is always reviewing and revising our processes and procedures related to all school-related business,” district spokesman Richard Franco wrote in a statement. “This practice is aligned with our commitment to continuous improvement to best serve our students, staff and community.”

The student’s family: “His pain is unbearable”

Johnson filed a notice of claim in August that accuses Phoenix Union High School District, Cesar Chavez’s former football coach and athletic director, Blue Ridge Unified School District, Show Low, Arizona Game & Fish and Recreation Resource Management of America for ” almost incomprehensible negligence” that led to Hampton’s death.

Notice of claim is a mandatory precursor to a lawsuit against a public entity or employee in Arizona.

Hampton’s death was preventable and was “caused by the gross negligence of the adults who were responsible for her care,” according to the notice of claim. A formal lawsuit had not been filed as of Wednesday.

Taylor told The Republic that school staff failed to get a head count of the student before he left Show Low and only realized Hampton was missing until another student asked him where he was. He added that the coaches left the teenagers unattended in a part of a lake where “No Swimming” signs were posted.

Taylor said Johnson learned her son was missing not from school officials or law enforcement — but from a friend of her son’s who left the camp and found a cell phone since phones are banned at the camp. Johnson immediately got into her car and drove to camp in Phoenix that night.

“After they found her, she had to identify the body in the lake, knowing that these trainers could have prevented that,” Taylor said.

“Christopher was loved and an excellent student,” Hampton’s family said in a statement. “The pain of his disappearance is unbearable.”

Taylor added that Hampton’s family was haunted by a host of unanswered questions about his death, such as how a teenager who couldn’t swim ended up in a lake where swimming wasn’t allowed in the first place.

“Family members have to worry about their kids because if there are too many administrators and teachers out there — and the coaches aren’t following the policies, other parents have to worry that their child might drown, too.”

Contact reporter Perry Vandell at [email protected] or 602-444-2474. Follow him on X, formerly known as Twitter, @PerryVandell.

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