Investing in School Safety
By Edward F. Dragan
The safety of children is of the utmost concern to school board members, administrators, and teachers. Accidents do happen, of course, but you must do everything you can to make sure that the students in your care are not hurt. A lack of oversight on safety issues can cost districts millions of dollars in the damages awarded each year to families of children injured at school.
Consider the following:
• A third-grade teacher told two students to return a television on a cart to the library down the hall. One student rode the cart, and when the other student lost his grip, the television toppled off and landed on the child’s head. The child was in a coma for two weeks and suffered permanent brain damage. The television was not strapped down, and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission had issued a warning about the cart years earlier. The jury awarded the student’s family $1.7 million.
• A shop class saw malfunctioned, causing a high school student to lose three fingers on his right hand when he cut a piece of wood on a table saw. The teacher had replaced a bolt in the mechanism that shields the operator’s hand with one that did not meet the manufacturer’s specifications. The accident happened when the bolt loosened. Taking what seemed like a harmless shortcut cost the school district nearly $1 million in a court settlement.
• An inner-city first-grade teacher needed more storage space, and so she jumped at a friend’s offer of a metal bookcase and cabinet. For months, there was no problem -- until a child was pushed into the bookcase’s sharp, rusty corner. The wound required numerous stitches, and the child also was at risk for tetanus because of the rust. Failing to inspect or regulate furniture in classrooms cost the district more than $200,000 in a settlement.
A safe school is a place where students learn and teachers teach in an environment free of physical hazards. It is a setting in which the school pays attention to maintaining equipment and correcting the sometimes hidden hazards that can injure children and others, cause the district embarrassment, and cost large sums of money.
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