School may have violated heat policy in student exercise death

By allowing a 16-year-old to participate in outdoor conditioning drills last week, Clayton County’s Elite Scholars Academy appears to have violated district policy that requires suspension of outside athletic activities when the heat index hits 95 degrees.

Imani Bell, a basketball player at the school, collapsed and later died after running stairs during outdoor drills on Aug. 13. Temperatures in metro Atlanta reached a high of 100.3 degrees, with a heat index of 109 degrees at 4 p.m. that day, according to the National Weather Service.

The fire department received the distress call about Imani's condition at 5:52 p.m. Imani collapsed after complaining to a coach that she was feeling ill from exercising, her family has said.

Autopsy results are pending, and no official cause of death has been released.

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"This is why it is so ridiculous and why someone needs to be held responsible," family spokesman Justin Miller said after being read the policy. Miller said the family has been told the autopsy will take three to six weeks.

In a policy titled “Heat advisory precautions for physical education/school day activities,” Clayton Schools mandates that all outside activities be suspended when the heat index is 95 degrees and above. The policy extends to physical education classes.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution obtained the policy through an open records request.

“Note that full sun exposure can increase the heat index by as much as 15 degrees,” the policy says in bold text.

A separate Wet Bulb Globe Temperature policy from the Georgia High School Association prohibits exercise when that measurement is over 92 degrees. The Wet Bulb Globe Temperature differs from the “feels-like” heat index in that it takes into account temperature, humidity, wind speed, sun angle and cloud cover.

A wet bulb reading of 92 degrees triggers a “NO OUTDOOR WORKOUTS” mandate, according to the GHSA website. A 92-degree wet bulb reading equates to a heat index temperature of 104-105 degrees, the website says.

The GHSA policy was included in the district's response to the AJC's open records request.

News of the apparent policy violation comes a day after a family spokesman said the Bells have been unable to get their questions answered by the district.

Miller, the family spokesman who is also an attorney, said they are considering a lawsuit against Clayton Schools to get those answers. The family wants to know more about the coaching staff and why students were performing outdoor conditioning drills in 100-degree heat.

“The school has a policy,” Miller said. “The Georgia High School Athletic Association has a policy. Everyone has a policy, but no one was making sure the policy was being followed.”



A spokesman for the district declined to comment Thursday, saying it was doing so out of respect for the family.

The district issued a brief statement from Superintendent Morcease Beasley the day of Imani’s death, expressing sorrow and plans to provide grief counselors.

“Our team is working diligently to determine more details relative to this matter,” the statement said.

Wednesday night, hundreds of people turned out for a candlelight vigil at Dixon Grove Baptist Church in Jonesboro.

Friends, family and school officials described her as brilliant, passionate and loving — and the type of person who would rally her teammates when they were struggling on the court.

During the vigil, a woman fell ill from the heat, prompting participants to call emergency personnel for help. Dixon secretary Cozella Hill said the unidentified woman was fine after getting help.

“I got shaken myself,” said Hill, adding that she went inside the church for momentary relief from the heat.

Funeral services for Bell will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday at Hillside Chapel and Truth Center, 2450 Cascade Road, S.W. in Atlanta. A wake is scheduled for Friday from 6-8 p.m. at Divine Faith Ministries International, 9800 Tara Boulevard in Jonesboro.

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