PALM BEACH GARDENS — William T. Dwyer High student Kedar Williams died on the second day of school. He fell to the cafeteria floor choking on chicken nuggets. His mom blames the school for failing to stick to plans designed to avoid this fate for her disabled 19-year-old.
Kedar was born on with autism. He spoke few words, needed help using the restroom and tended to wander. The choking risk didn’t surface until he hit his teens.
It was just one of the reasons he was supposed to be supervised at all times.
Indeed, a paraprofessional who shadowed Kedar daily was supposed to cut his food into manageable chunks and make sure the teen washed down each bite with a drink, according to both his pediatrician and the education plan approved by school staff and his mother, Megan Williams.
Megan Williams was so bent on the staff hearing her fears that when their efforts to monitor him on the bus fell short in 2016 and Kedar dug into some snack food in his backpack, she sent them a photo of the last time he had unfettered access to food — at a family meal a year earlier.
In the photo, Kedar lies in a medically induced coma at St. Mary’s Medical Center. It was a photo she’d share with staff more than once.
On the bus, Kedar’s sister was there to intervene when Kedar began to choke, saving him and reporting the incident to mom.
Her mother’s message: This is what happens when he has unsupervised access to food — don’t let this happen at school.
On the second day of this school year, the only account other than the one Williams gives comes from the Palm Beach County medical examiner’s report, which ruled the death an accident. The narrative from the scene in the report comes from school police Detective Diana Burfield, who called the medical examiner’s office twice that day after Kedar had died.
School district officials have withheld footage from a school security camera and declined to comment, citing student privacy and rules governing an ongoing police investigation.
The only public acknowledgment of Kedar’s death was the principal’s recorded phone call that went to parents notifying them that an unnamed student died that day as the result of a “medical episode.”
Williams says no one from the school or the school district has contacted her since Kedar’s death — ever.
Williams’ memory of that day begins with Kedar eager to go to school.
He had been a student in Palm Beach County’s public schools since third grade when he attended Seminole Trails Elementary and then headed to Watson B. Duncan Elementary. Living with his mom in West Palm Beach, Dwyer wasn’t his home school, but it was the one he was assigned to because it had a special needs program that could best accommodate him, Williams said.
One of the day’s typical highlights? Ms. D’s independent living class, Williams said.
On that Tuesday, however, Williams was trying to figure out Kedar’s new schedule. She couldn’t find the notebook that typically came home with that information.
She left a message at the school and sometime after 10 that morning, she got a call back.
But the conversation about the missing schedule was swiftly eclipsed by the more alarming news that Kedar was ambling through school that day without a minder, Williams said.
The paraprofessional who had been Kedar’s companion for the past two years was no longer available. They were working on an alternative, the coordinator for special education told Williams.
Mom was furious. One-on-one supervision was a matter of life or death, Williams reminded the woman. The two hung up so the woman could check on Kedar, Williams said.
Within the hour, Williams says she received a second call from the school. Kedar was unresponsive. Paramedics were on their way.
The report notes that Kedar had always been assigned a person for a “one to one watch” until this school year. On that day, Aug. 13, it says a health aide was in the cafeteria “watching him and another student.”
But one-on-one supervision ceases to be one-on-one when there’s another student, notes Williams’ attorney Sia Baker-Barnes.
The detective said Kedar was having problems swallowing food — but the detective described the problem starting four days earlier.
Regardless of history, Kedar arrived in Dwyer’s cafeteria shortly after 11 a.m. and was eating nuggets when, according to the medical examiner’s report, he abruptly left the table and walked to a nearby window. The health aide called him back.
“As he was returning to the table, he appeared in distress ... (he) started gasping and he appeared to be choking. He collapsed to the floor, and the health aid called for help,” according to the report. That was 11:19 a.m.
By 11:23 bystanders called 911, and, 10 minutes after Kedar hit the floor, at 11:29 a.m., paramedics from Palm Beach Gardens Fire Rescue were in the cafeteria, the report states.
In those 10 minutes between Kedar falling and paramedics arriving, school police and other school staff rushed to the cafeteria. Someone removed food from Kedar’s mouth and someone performed the Heimlich maneuver, pushing out more food, the report said. But not enough — the autopsy found a clump of what appears to be a piece of chicken still lodged in his trachea.
Burfield was told the Kedar was “combative” when medics attempted to work on him. Also according to the report, the school nurse told medics that Kedar had a seizure before their arrival.
The paramedics transported Kedar to Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center, arriving about 11:55 a.m. or just over half an hour after Kedar began choking. Staff there continued CPR and advanced cardiac life support, but by 12:14 p.m., the doctors there declared they could do no more. Kedar had died.
In what was already a calamitous beginning to Megan Williams’ day, that second call telling her Kedar had collapsed packed even more unintended trauma.
Not realizing how dire the situation was, Williams said she asked the school to direct paramedics and Kedar to St. Mary’s Medical Center where staff had treated him in 2015 for choking. And when she left her job at another district school to meet her son, that’s where she went, and waited.
But paramedics had taken Kedar to the nearest ER — at Palm Beach Gardens Medical Center. By the time Williams got to the right hospital, the life had gone out of Kedar’s body. And his mother was left with her rage and grief. She lashed out at a doctor.
Two months after his death, Williams struggles to speak of her third of four children.
Family doted on him. They would take him to the park. “He liked to people watch at CityPlace. He liked to ride the trolley.” He was fond of sitting on his grandmother’s porch and watching folks walk by.
After long nagging for a dog, he got a Yorkshire terrier, Bella.
“I tried very hard to make sure he had a normal life,” Williams says.
“You should be good with sending your child to school. They should be protected while in school. This is not something that should happen.” Williams is angry. “I trusted them.
“This is a nightmare. A nightmare.”