I’ve been watching the School Board meetings for two months now, and I think of the five Board members, there is one that has a lot of potential to do the right thing for families with children in the HCS, and that’s Laurie McCaulley, the District 1 rep, now in her first term of office.
What makes her different? She brings to the attention of the Board, Superintendent, and public her concerns for children.
I first noticed this in the exchange about bus suspensions on July 7, 2011. This week she commented on a situation that is nearly unbelievable in its callous disregard for the safety of children, including the very youngest students. McCaulley asked the director for Safety and Transportation, Kyle Koski, what the system has in place for kids who are dropped off late in the day because she has driven by schools and seen kids hanging around unchaperoned. She mentioned too the case of a little girl whose ride never came and who was unknown to anyone and unable to tell her name.
Koski’s response was that this has been a problem for “years” with the magnet school and majority to minority school runs, that parents have been informed of the routes, and he doesn’t know what could be done other than an aftercare program. He emphasized that it’s the “parents’ responsibility to pick the child up at their drop-off time.”
Reading between the lines, what do we have?
- It’s kids in North Huntsville that are being dumped at closed buildings.
- This has been going on for years and is news to no one.
- The HCS will provide bus transportation to kids from the North to go to magnet schools or to take advantage of the System’s majority-to-minority transfer policy, which is the bone it throws to the Justice Department, but if parents want to take advantage of this, they need to leave work at 4:00 or 4:15, even if like everyone else in the office they are expected to be there until 5:00.
- Koski can’t think of anything other than an aftercare program, and acts like that is just the most outlandish of ideas.
- The HCS has no responsibility for leaving kids as young as 5 unsupervised on its properties for hours, including, in winter, hours of darkness.
Let’s take point 4 first because what Koski had just finished repeating to the Board was that it doesn’t matter how many runs a bus makes, the cost is the same. In that case, why dump the kids at a closed facility? Let them stay at the school they attend in the aftercare program there and then run a bus that arrives at the dumping ground at 5:30 when their parents can be there to pick them up. Send a bus aide along and charge by the minute for any kid not collected when the bus arrives.
When McCaulley replied it was a “liability” to leave kids unsupervised like that, she was right on target. Yes, Koski is partially right that it’s the “parents’ responsibility to pick the child up at their drop-off time” — but if the HCS doesn’t have it on record that the parents are absolutely aware of when and where they are expected to be, and that they agree to this and can manage it, then it is living dangerously.
Even so, sometimes there are things like wrecks and tornadoes that prevent parents from making it across town: what happens then? Thank goodness most kids carry cell phones — older ones, anyway, but that won’t help the very youngest if their parents can’t make it and no one has bothered to stick around.
It should be obvious that it is morally reprehensible to proceed like this, but some care more about whether they can be sued if a child is hurt than for the child. And I think, arguably, that were one of these kids hurt in any way, the answer would be yes.
Two concepts apply: in loco parentis and duty to protect. The first means basically in the place of the parent. Now it is one thing if you are talking about high school, middle school, even upper elementary. And another altogether if you are talking K-3.
When a 6-year-old is at school, the child is basically in the custody of the school until he is returned to the custody of the parent or an adult designated by the parent. A parent who dumps the child off at 6 am in front of a locked school that won’t open til 7:30, or the school acting in loco parentis who leaves her alone at a locked building from 4:00 to 5:30: what’s the difference?
Sometimes even age doesn’t matter. You know how it is when there’s a tornado warning? Let’s say you’ve driven like fury to collect your kids, and you get to the school only to find out that the school is holding them until the warning is extinguished. So there you are, your kids on one side of the door, you on the other, and that is just too bad. Custody. Duty to protect.
I looked at some legal cases and found comments like these:
Just as it can be said that students do not abandon their constitutional rights when they enter the school house door at the beginning of the day (Tinker v. Des Moines School Dist. (1969) 393 U.S. 503, 506), a school’s responsibility to ensure the safety of students does not entirely evaporate as students walk out those doors when the school day ends. Indeed, the school’s own policies in this case reveal what one might construe as silent acknowledgement that the district owes some measure of duty toward students’ safe departure from school because the school did not let kindergartners and first graders walk home unaccompanied, but released them only to responsible adults.
Just because a student has left the school premises does not mean the district’s obligations have ended. If a district has undertaken to provide transportation from the school, the duty of care may extend beyond the door of the school bus until children have been discharged to a place of reasonable safety. In Farley v. El Tejon Unified School Dist. (1990) 225Cal.App.3d 371, 376-377, the parents of a 7-year-old killed while crossing a street after disembarking a school bus alleged that prior to the accident the school principal was aware children being discharged at the bus stop customarily crossed a road to meet family members. The plaintiff also alleged that the driver had instructed children not to cross the road until the school bus was out of sight, and the bus driver should have supervised their safe crossing. The court of appeal held that the district could be liable for failure to exercise reasonable care, and that it “had an obligation to supervise the children during that transportation and a duty to provide a reasonably safe system.” (Id. at p. 380.)
Ms. McCaulley, dig in your heels. Be firm. Be mean if you need to be. What is happening is wrong. Thank you for bringing it to our attention, although I fear with all the drama this week it will have gone unnoticed.
You can change that. So far, the HCS and most importantly these kids have been very, very lucky.
But luck runs out.
PS: Tell Koski that if he is counting on the schools to post the bus run schedules, he’d better be sure they are doing a better job of keeping up their websites than he is his departments’. Go to the HCS Directory and click on Safety & Transportation or Transportation and in both cases you get a dead link page. Doesn’t exactly inspire confidence.