Lake Stevens district settles claim over student who died

LAKE STEVENS — The Lake Stevens School District has paid $500,000 to settle a legal claim filed by the family of a 20-year-old special-needs student who drowned in the Lake Stevens High School pool May 31.

Attorneys hired by the family filed the claim in September, asking for $7.5 million, according to documents obtained by The Herald under state public records laws.

Fedrick Nifasha, a refugee camp survivor from Tanzania, was in a school district program that focused on helping older students with developmental disabilities enter the workforce and learn life skills.

The school district earlier said that students were getting into the pool at the beginning of a physical education class when a teacher noticed one was missing. The teacher and the school aquatics manager, a certified lifeguard, both were at the pool at the time.

Nifasha was pulled from the pool and rushed to Providence Regional Medical Center Everett, where he died after spending a week on life support.

“We continue to express our heartfelt apologies for the loss of Fedrick,” Lake Stevens School Superintendent Amy Beth Cook said in a prepared statement. “We worked with the Nifasha family, and their attorney, in a private and respectful process to come to an agreement that provides them support.”

The family’s attorney, Sim Osborn, on Tuesday said the settlement should have been higher, but was limited by state laws regarding wrongful deaths.

He commended the school district for working with the family. The district helped the family understand what went wrong that day, Osborn said.

“We fought very hard for this family,” he said. “It’s important that we keep schools responsible for their actions. Those parents would return that check in a heartbeat for their son, but they can’t. This settlement validates our belief that the school district fundamentally failed to protect Fedrick.”

As part of the Oct. 21 settlement, the family agreed to waive their rights to file future lawsuits regarding the death. The documents say $10,000 of the settlement must be set aside for each of the young man’s six siblings.

The district was not required to pay the family’s legal bills, except for some court fees. The family’s attorneys received $151,666 of the settlement money, the documents show.

A family spokesman in June said Nifasha had survived a previous brain surgery for epilepsy. He hadn’t had a seizure in years. He was a source of joy and inspiration to his family. They’d immigrated to the U.S. in part to get him better medical care.

He attended Lake Stevens and Jackson high schools.

The family previously lived in a refugee camp in Tanzania after violence drove them from their home in Burundi. Nifasha’s father, a phlebotomist, lived in the camp for decades, Osborn said.

Nifasha could not swim. He spoke Kirundi, the native language of Burundi, and also some Swahili. He could understand some English but didn’t speak it well, according to the family.

A memorial service was held in Everett in June.

Rikki King: 425-339-3449, rking@heraldnet.com.

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