Mother of teen found at bottom of Detroit school pool demands answers

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News

Southfield — The mother of a 15-year-old Detroit teen found in the bottom of a high school swimming pool is alleging her learning-disabled son was bullied and beaten before he was forced into the water and while his teacher left the class unsupervised.

Detroit police on Monday said the death of Da’Sean Blanding, found in a Mumford High School pool on Feb. 24, could become a criminal investigation.

Christina Blanding of Detroit is overcome with emotion while talking about the drowning death of her son.

Da'Sean's mother, Christina Blanding, alleged on Monday at a press conference that her son died at the hands of students at Mumford who have been bullying special education students during class. She also questioned whether it involved gang activity.

"They were picking on special education kids. The teachers knew about it," Blanding said of the Mumford students.

Her attorney, Johnny L. Hawkins, alleged the teacher knew of the bullying and left students unsupervised the day Da'Sean died.

"There is no denying this was going on and that this environment was not proper for any student, let alone a person with certain limitations like Da'Sean," Hawkins said.

The teacher remains on paid administrative leave, pending an investigative interview with the district, union officials said on Monday. 

Blanding, who buried her son on Saturday, said she wants the teacher terminated and criminal charges to be considered against anyone involved.

Da'Sean Lamar Blanding

On Monday, Detroit police Chief James Craig told The Detroit News his department is conducting what could be a criminal investigation into Da'Sean's death.

"We’ve talked to a number of witnesses, and we’re exploring all avenues," Craig said. "Was this criminal or was this accidental? I’m not at a point where I can say definitively what happened to this young man was criminal in nature, but we’re not dismissing it either.”

Asked if she knew how her son entered the pool that day he died, Blanding said the matter is still under investigation.

"I am still trying to find out what happened," Blanding said.

Da'Sean's official cause and manner of his death are pending. His mother alleged on Monday that her son was bleeding from the nose and mouth when he was pulled from the pool and had marks on his neck. She said she saw the injuries when she viewed her son's body at the hospital.

"So this is not a drowning," Blanding said.

She said Da'Sean told her about being cyberbullied while he was a student at Henry Ford High School last school year. Blanding said her son received threats via Instagram, and she told school officials and DPSCD police officials about it but never heard back.

Blanding said she pulled Da'Sean from Ford High and homeschooled him for a period last school year. He started a repeat of ninth grade in September at Mumford High, where his mother says she never consented to him taking swimming classes.

Despite her request for him to be assigned to another class, Blanding says Da'Sean was forced to go to the swimming pool every week.

Blanding, who said Da'Sean was her only child, said she wants federal investigators to come to the district to find the truth.

In the meantime, the family wants the district to adhere to its own anti-bullying policy and for lawmakers to strengthen state laws by declaring learning-disabled children as a protected group under Michigan's Anti-Bullying Law.

DPSCD officials say the district will likely conclude its employee investigation regarding the teacher sometime this week and determine disciplinary action at that time. DPSCD superintendent Nikolai Vitti attended Da'Sean's funeral over the weekend.

"The district arranged for the cost of the funeral to be covered for the family, and Dr. Vitti attended visitation hours at Hutchinson Funeral Home to personally express his deepest condolences to the Blanding family," the district's statement said.

District officials said on Monday a preliminary review of the incident does not indicate that Da'Sean's death was the cause of gang activity, his learning disability or bullying as defined as consistent and persistent harassment.

"The district and school, at this point, has no record of the latter," the statement said.

The district said it continues to mourn the loss of Da'Sean and is dedicated to determining the truth of what occurred.

"As we have stated since the incident occurred, we want justice and the truth for the family — no matter what the investigation yields," the statement said.

"‎We agree that the teacher should be on administrative leave without pay. However, state law is clear that a tenured teacher cannot be placed on leave without pay," the statement says. 

"Our employee investigation regarding this matter is surfacing concerns with the teacher's responsibilities regarding this tragedy and shortly the superintendent will be making a disciplinary recommendation to the school board."

District officials said the focus of its investigation is to first determine the actions of the teacher that day.

"And we will then move to review the actions of the counselor, other employees and the principal," the district said.

Chrystal Banks, Da'Sean's grandmother, said Da'Sean was a loving, caring, funny, intelligent young man.

"Whatever happened, he didn't deserve it. He should be with us now, not where he is at now," Banks said.

Staff Writer George Hunter contributed.