Malachi McFadden was left with burns on his face, neck and arms after a chemistry demonstration at Redan High School went awry, attorney L. Chris Stewart said.
Photo: L. Chris Stewart
Photo: L. Chris Stewart

Burned student’s attorney says DeKalb school district won’t cover surgeries

The DeKalb County School District won’t cover the cost of a high school student’s reconstructive surgeries after a school science experiment left him with burns all over his body, according to his family’s attorney. 

Malachi McFadden was left with burns on his face, neck and arms after a chemistry demonstration at Redan High School went awry last year, attorney L. Chris Stewart told AJC.com. 

Stewart said the school district told McFadden’s family that it will no longer insure the science teacher involved in the incident that injured the teen in August.

“So they don’t have funds for when a child is injured,” he said. 

Attorneys for Malachi McFadden released the school district's report in a news conference.
Photo: ASIA SIMONE BURNS/ ASIA.BURNS@AJC.COM

McFadden’s injuries will require a series of reconstructive surgeries to return his skin to normal, Stewart said. 

According to Stewart, McFadden’s family must use their own insurance to cover the cost of the teen’s surgeries. When it runs out, the district will cover “life-saving” procedures, he said. 

McFadden’s facial surgeries are considered cosmetic, not life-saving. Therefore, they will not be covered, Stewart said.  

Officials previously decided no criminal charges would be filed against the teacher. However, Stewart filed a civil action against the teacher and three other school officials as individuals in November. 

In a statement, a spokeswoman with the DeKalb school district said: “The district is unable to provide information related to pending litigation or employee matters.”

The incident happened Aug. 6, the second day of classes, AJC.com previously reported. 

The teacher submitted an idea for an experiment to an assistant principal in her lesson plan for the week. The idea was drawn from Thought Co., an education reference website, according to the report released after a three-month investigation by the district’s Office of Legal Affairs. 

The experiment calls for someone to coat a dollar bill in a solution that is half alcohol and half water, then set it on fire and allow it to burn until the flame goes out. 

Malachi McFadden, 15, was badly burned during an experiment that went wrong in his high school chemistry class.
Photo: Channel 2 Action News

RELATED: 15-year-old hospitalized after chemistry experiment returns to school for pep rally

According to the report, the teacher tried the experiment three times before the incident that sent McFadden to the hospital. During the first attempt on the first day of class, it didn’t work. 

She then tried it again the next day, the report said. 

“(The teacher) announced to the class that she was going to conduct this same demonstration, but instead of using alcohol and water, she was going to use ethanol and water,” the report said. 

She followed the same steps to light the bill on fire, the report said. When it was lit, she asked the students if they could see the flames, and they replied “no.” 

MORE: Officials suggest teacher be fired after experiment severely burned student during class

She then turned off the lights and added ethanol to the flame, the report said. 

“That is when the flame got large and cracked the bowl,” the report said. “The flame then ran across the desk, landing on (McFadden).” 

Students said McFadden had his head down on his desk at the time and didn’t see the flames coming. When the fire landed on him, another student poured water on him to put it out, and another school employee came into the classroom with a fire extinguisher.

“All statements state that students ran out of the back door (to the media center) and (the teacher) froze in pure shock,” the report said. 

RELATED: DeKalb high school student burned during chemistry lab experiment

McFadden was rushed to Grady Memorial Hospital.

“Over 10% third-degree burns,” Stewart previously said. “It’s horrific.”

The school system would not say if the teacher is still employed either at the school or in the district.

MORE: DeKalb student still recovering from severe burns after chemistry experiment

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