Children play on the beach at Range Pond State Park in Poland on Tuesday afternoon. The water in the deep end of the swimming area where a Lewiston Middle School student drowned on Tuesday morning is 8 to 10 feet deep.

POLAND — The deep end of the roped-off area at Range Pond where a Lewiston student drowned Tuesday is 8 to 10 feet deep, Maine Department of Agriculture spokesman John Bott said.

Rayan A. Issa

The roped area is not for wading, it is for swimming, Bott said, adding that is the norm at state parks.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said he was surprised to learn the roped area is that deep. Not knowing how deep the swimming area was “is clearly one of our deficiencies,” Webster said Friday. “There is no consistency from park to park. I am very surprised it is that much.”

Webster said that is one of the things he wants clarified when a report on the drowning is completed. “Was there enough awareness of everybody of the depths of the water?” he said, referring to adult chaperones of Lewiston Middle School students.

The school field trip group included 113 students, 11 chaperones and one lifeguard.

Webster said he’d like to see the state parks post signs on water depths in the roped swimming areas. That, he said, would be a wake-up call to adults.

Webster referred to an article in Slate Magazine, which reported research suggesting that when someone is drowning, it may not be obvious to others.

Rayan Issa, 13, a Lewiston Middle School seventh-grader, was playing football with classmates in the roped area. Going for the football, Rayan ended up in water over his head. He went under and didn’t come back up, Webster said.

Indications are that he may not have known how to swim, Webster has said.

Webster has canceled all water-related field trips and is drafting a more detailed parental permission slip. Summer school programs in Lewiston begin July 2, and typically involve field trips once a week. It’s now not clear whether any of those trips will include water-based activities.

Webster has asked the school department’s attorney to investigate the drowning and give a detailed report on what happened.

Bott said the depths of designated swimming areas at state parks vary.

Even if the ropes were pulled closer to shore and water depths were no more than 3 to 4 feet deep, that would still be over some children’s heads, he said. If the swimming areas are too narrow, swimmers might go outside the ropes, Bott said.

“People can drown in a minimum amount of water. You have to be careful,” Bott said. State parks follow the best practices as recommended by the American Red Cross, he said.

When Rayan was reported missing Tuesday, the first information given to the lifeguard was that the student was missing, not that he was in the water, Bott said. It was 5 to 10 minutes before the lifeguard was told the boy was in the water, “and I’m being conservative,” he said.

The water search was complicated, Bott said, because the water was murky, which is natural at this time of year. The situation called for forming a human chain to look for the boy, who ultimately was underwater for half an hour.

A review by state officials indicates that park personnel followed standard procedures, including giving a safety talk and recommending the buddy system be used, Bott said. “(Staff) did everything they could to try and prevent this tragedy.”

“Everyone is heartbroken,” he said.

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