Children play on the beach at Range Pond State Park in Poland on Tuesday afternoon. A 13-year-old Lewiston student on a school field trip drowned there in the morning.

Superintendent Bill Webster has banned all water activities indefinitely and launched an internal investigation of the district’s policies in the aftermath of the drowning death of a 13-year-old Lewiston Middle School student on a field trip.

Police said Rayan Issa apparently went under water at Range Pond State Park in Poland on Tuesday while playing football and never resurfaced. His death raises questions for Lewiston and other districts about the safety of class trips to public swimming areas, where regulations vary.

“Parents should expect that when their children get up and leave for school that they are going to come back at the end of the day,” Webster said. “We need to do a thorough review of our procedures because we have got to have 100 percent certainty that this will never, never happen again. And I don’t have that level of confidence right now.”

Rayan A. Issa

Webster said students are required to present a signed permission slip from their parents to attend a field trip. He confirmed every student at Range Pond on Tuesday had a permission slip, but he said he was not sure how many details about the trip were on that paperwork. That will be part of the district’s review, he said.

The district also has a threshold for the ratio of staff to students on a field trip, Webster said, though he didn’t know what it was off the top of his head and didn’t have immediate access to the policy. He also said students are required to stay in the designated swimming area under lifeguard supervision.

Webster said the district already is researching best practices, like a required swim test for students or a greater number of required lifeguards. He has also asked the law firm Brann & Isaacson to review Tuesday’s incident and make recommendations for the future. That report will be available to the public when it is complete, the superintendent said.

If the district is not able to implement those recommendations, Webster said water activities may not be allowed again.

“I want to better understand what best practices are,” he said. “My thought right now is that if we are not able to follow them … as much as we want to give students these experiences, we just can’t do that.”

At Range Pond, a lifeguard was on duty Tuesday, and Issa was inside the designated swimming area.

John Bott, spokesman for the state Bureau of Parks and Lands, said the water at the buoy line at Range Pond is 8 to 10 feet deep. Lakefront swim areas always have a continuous line of rope or buoys that is visible from the land and water by swimmers and boaters, he said. But there are no regulations about water depth or distance from the shoreline for the buoy line.

“The designated swimming area is designed to promote safety and accommodate all swimming abilities,” Bott wrote in an email. “Swimming pools also have deep ends in addition to shallow ends. Some swimmers like to do laps and swim under water, requiring extra room. If the area is too narrow, we will have problems with swimmers going outside the designated area, creating another type of safety risk.”

The design of a swimming area varies from park to park, he said. Factors include the steepness of slope, the lake bottom conditions and structures such as rocks, stumps or logs.

“All of our established swim areas have been in place for decades,” Bott said.

Policies related to field trips to the water vary by district.

In Old Orchard Beach, Superintendent John Suttie said students do not typically go on field trips that involve swimming or being in the water. For other outings, Suttie cited a district policy that guides supervision, transportation, student needs and safety.

In districts like South Portland and Westbrook, however, students are allowed in the water.

South Portland Superintendent Ken Kunin said the district only permits swimming in lifeguarded areas, like Willard Beach. Parents must sign a permission slip with an outline of the trip, so they can flag any concerns.

Westbrook Superintendent Peter Lancia said all third-graders in the district take an eight-week swimming course at the community center. Swimming might be involved in a district field day or a team-building excursion, Lancia said. Range Pond is one of the destinations of these trips.

“I just think it’s so sad that this has happened,” Lancia said. “It’s the last thing anyone ever wants to think of, but it’s really tragic.

“It makes us think about how well prepared we are to go on any trip.”

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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