Latoya Temilton’s parents advised to sue school after learner drowned on school camping trip

Investigations found that the pool at the camp site was not suitable for children and there were no teachers or lifeguards on duty, despite learners indicating that Latoya Temilton (pictured) could not swim. Picture: Department of Education

Investigations found that the pool at the camp site was not suitable for children and there were no teachers or lifeguards on duty, despite learners indicating that Latoya Temilton (pictured) could not swim. Picture: Department of Education

Published Apr 4, 2024


A law firm probing the death of a Gauteng learner at a camp site in January has advised her parents to charge the school principal and teachers for failing to care for the learner while in their care.

Investigations found that the pool at the camp site was not suitable for children and there were no teachers or lifeguards on duty. This is despite learners indicating that Latoya could not swim.

Latoya Temilton drowned while on a leadership camp at the Wag ‘n Bietjie Resort in Witkoppen.

The Gauteng Department of Education then commissioned Nchupetsang Incorporated Attorneys to investigate and compile a report on the Grade 7 learner's demise.

Speaking at a briefing at Laerskool Queenswood school in Pretoria on Thursday, Gauteng Education MEC Matome Chiloane said that based on interviews with district officials, school personnel, representatives of the School Governing Body, Latoya's parents, learner prefects, teachers, camp facilitators, and campsite owners, they were able to obtain a clear understanding of the circumstances surrounding the learner's death.

"Additionally, the post-mortem report confirms that Latoya's cause of death was indeed drowning, further solidifying the findings of the investigation," the MEC said.

The report noted that learners indicated that Latoya could not swim and they saw her doing handstands.

"Some of the learners indicated that they saw Latoya flap her hands and thought that she was joking. According to Latoya’s parents, she could not swim. Latoya’s mother advised that this was indicated to the school in previous excursions. However, the indemnity form for this excursion was only given to Latoya’s dad the morning of the excursion, and he did not have an opportunity to fully complete the form," Chiloane said.

The legal team identified several consistent facts during their interviews; that the camp where the incident occurred was designated as a leadership camp for the 2024 prefects organised by the school, the camp featured a swimming pool, which was included in the programme provided to parents on the day of the camp; however, it didn't seem suitable for children, lacking safety measures such as life jackets or lifeguards.

The MEC said a learner from Queenswood Primary School was the one who found Latoya at the bottom of the pool and retrieved her body.

Chiloane said the incident was reported, by the school, and counselling was offered to all on the camp as well as learners at school.

Nchupetsang Attorneys' investigation into the tragic incident at the leadership camp revealed several shortcomings in the planning and execution of the excursion.

“They found that principal, deputy principal and an educator lacked knowledge of the legislative framework for excursions, recommending charges for contravening Section 16A(2)(vi) and (f) and recommended training on excursion regulations.

“Moreover, they highlighted the failure to adhere to Memorandum No. 106 of 2022, which led to a lack of approval process for the excursion. They recommended withdrawing the memorandum and reinstating Regulation 7(1), (2), (3), and (4) of The Regulations on Domestic and International Tours for Learners at Public Schools, 2012,” the MEC spelled out.

He said the report found the absence of parental consent, risk assessment, and adequate safety measures, suggesting charges for contravention of various regulations, including Regulation 11, 8(1)(a), 9(1), and 10(2)(a).

Furthermore, they recommended charging the principal and educators for contravening Section 32(1)(a) of the Children’s Act, which placed a duty on them to ensure the Latoya’s well-being while she was in their care, and charged for misconduct for failing to act in accordance with their legal duty to supervise and ensure Latoya’s well-being Regulation 8(1)(b) and 10(2)(b) of the Regulations of Domestic and International Tours for Learners at Public Schools, 2012.

— Gauteng Department of Education (@EducationGP1) April 4, 2024

The attorneys have also recommended that the principal and educators be charged with misconduct for providing dishonest and falsified information to the Department and/ or its agent, following their testimonies which contradicted those of the learners.

Part of the recommendations include removing and disbanding the school’s defunct governing body.

Chiloane said the report concluded that department might face civil liability for the incident due to potential negligence.

He explained that the legal team noted contributory negligence on the part of Latoya and her parents, as the invitation did indicate that the excursion had swimming activities involved and subsequently packed swimming costume while knowing that the child cannot swim.

“The school has insurance coverage, but the department may still be liable for damages not covered by the insurance. Additionally, there's a possibility of a claim for constitutional damages against the department. The attorneys recommended that the department compensate the family based on moral obligation, with the exact amount to be determined by the department,” the MEC said.

Nchupetsang Attorneys identified contributory negligence on the part of the camp and its personnel, due to the absence of proper demarcation between shallow and deep sections of the pool and a lack of immediate action when alerted about a possible incident.

“They emphasised that the camp must prioritise child safety, suggesting increased supervision, the presence of lifeguards during swimming activities, and inspections for approval processes. Additionally, they recommended the consideration of building smaller pools with clear depth indications and installing surveillance cameras,” the MEC said.

Nchupetsang Attorneys concluded that the department did not omit its duties but responded promptly after the incident, providing timely support and counselling to the family.

Chiloane added that however, they highlighted the need for the department to review its excursion policies, particularly regarding swimming activities, in light of recent drowning incidents.

“They recommended withdrawing Memorandum 106 of 2022 and restoring the approval process for excursions to involve the District and an Advisory Council. They advised workshops on the legal framework for schools and closer monitoring of its implementation, along with the regulation of excursion sites through a vetting process to ensure safety standards are met,” he said.

Reacting to the report and its recommendations, Chiloane said the department is determined to implementing them, especially with regards to regulations of venues that are used for excursions by schools.

“We are grateful to the law firm for their comprehensive investigation that shed light on a number of issues surrounding this incident,” Chiloane said.