Posts Tagged ‘parents’

School’s Duty to Parents: Is Your Child at Risk?

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Image from tutoringmontana.com

Recently, I have been thinking quite a bit about schools. My son is going to start kindergarten in the fall and my daughter just started preschool last week. While both of my kids are still little, over the years children end up spending many of their waking hours each week at school. The school becomes as much a part of their lives as home for most kids. As parents, we put trust in the school that they will be keeping our children safe and healthy while we are not around to supervise. But do the schools recognize that trust and live up to it?

I was recently made aware of a situation involving a teenager who was having some health concerns. Her parents had first noticed that their daughter seemed to be altering her eating patterns. Since they were not certain if there was a problem forming and what was going on during the school day, they called the school and asked if the school thought that there was any reason to be concerned. This seemed to be a prudent action for any concerned parent. But what, if anything, is the school required to tell the parents? What if the parents had not noticed a problem, but the school knew that something was not right, would they have needed to call it to the parents’ attention?

Legally, it turns out that a school is considered to stand in loco parentis over the children in its care. This fancy legalese just means that the school stands in as substitute parents during the school day.  This is true of both public and private schools. The school holds a duty to protect and supervise students in its care. The courts have determined that this includes taking care to protect children from foreseeable harm, the way a reasonable parent would do if they were there.

So what does this all mean? Some of this is pretty straightforward. A school needs to protect your children from harm they could foresee. A school has to take reasonable precautions to protect children from getting hurt on the playground or from cars driving around the campus – to the same extent that a prudent parent would do so.  For public policy reasons, schools are often a place where the government often takes an even more active role in monitoring children’s health – for example in doing hearing and vision screenings.

But what about other types of harms? Most parents would want to know if their child was being bullied, was showing signs of developing an eating disorder or was considering hurting him or herself. Does a school have a duty to inform parents anytime there might be a chance of one of these harms?

The law does not seem to be settled in on this point.  Generally speaking, the school would need to take reasonable steps to protect a child if the school could foresee that the child was at risk of being harmed by another child in the school.  The law is not explicit about whether that includes informing the parents. When the risk is not of another child hurting your child but of your child hurting him or herself, the law is much less clear. In Maryland, it seems possible that a school might have a duty to warn a parent if they believe a child is suicidal. The school counselor may have a duty to warn the parent as part of a duty to take reasonable means to prevent the child’s suicide. However, the law is not explicit about when that duty arises.

What do you think? Does a school have a duty to inform parents if there is a reasonable chance that a child might be a danger to him or herself? What if your child is engaging in behaviors that might cause harm over time? Is this the role of a school?

A Social Networking Lesson for Parents: Think twice before you hit 'send'!

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

It’s amazing how people continue to find new ways to get into trouble with social networking.

Photo by Davin Lesnick

Just a few years ago, a parent might get into trouble with his or her teenager by reading the teenager’s diary. Such domestic misdeeds seem almost quaint by comparison to what some parents are now doing on the Internet.

As reported by the ABA Journal and others, a mother in Arkansas has been convicted of harassing her own teenage son via the popular social networking site Facebook. While the mother and her teenage son had an admittedly difficult relationship before this (the teenager had lived with his grandmother for years), the teen never suspected that his mother would go to such lengths in her ongoing battle with him.

Denise New logged onto her son’s personal Facebook account after the teenager apparently left his account open on his computer. Perhaps many parents can appreciate the temptation of peering into their children’s online activities given such an opportunity. This mother, however, was not motivated by concern over her son’s well-being or even simple curiosity. Instead, Ms. New intended to post phony messages on his site purporting to come from him. For example, after the two got into a physical altercation and the police got involved, the mother posted a message on her son’s Facebook account (again pretending she was her son) essentially bragging that he had intentionally started the fight and called the police on his mother. Cell phone messages played in court corroborated that the mother was posting such phony messages. In other messages left on his site, the mother expressed regret at ever having a child and repeatedly used foul language. Putting all of this together, the court found that this conduct constituted harassment of the teenager. The mother was sentenced to 30 days in jail (suspended) along with probation and parenting classes.

As a reminder to all of us in this new world of social networking, the trial judge offered some sage advice:

“We live in a world now where what used to be said between two people or in a parking lot, now you hit a button and hundreds, maybe millions, of people can hear what you do,” he said. “It makes it maybe even more important for a person to think before they act because the amplification can be tremendous.” (Source: Arkansas Online)

Like it or not, we all now have the ability to broadcast information — even highly personal information — to the world.  Apparently, some of us are still struggling with deciding what information should be broadcast and what should be kept to ourselves.

Parents – be aware and read this article: Children Don’t Have Strokes? Just Ask Jared About His, at Age 7 – NYTimes.com

Tuesday, January 19th, 2010

The New York Times reports a fascinating story about a 7 year old boy, Jared, who one day was a healthy, happy, fully functioning boy and a few short days later was lying in a hospital bed unable to walk, virtually unable to speak and hooked to tubes and wires to support his life.

NY Times photo of Jared

The theme of the story - Children Don’t Have Strokes? Just Ask Jared About His, at Age 7 – NYTimes.com – relates to a medically inaccurate concept – ‘children don’t have strokes.’

The author of the article, Jared’s father, has sage advice, based on accurate medical information:

How little we knew. It turns out that stroke, by some estimates, is the sixth leading cause of death in infants and children. And experts say doctors and hospitals need to be far more aggressive in detecting and treating it.

Dr. Rebecca N. Ichord, director of the pediatric stroke program at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, who continues to be deeply involved in Jared’s care, said that while conditions like migraines and poisoning could cause similar symptoms, “front-line providers need to have stroke on their radar screen as a possible cause of sudden neurologic illness in children.”

The sixth leading cause of death in infants and children and many in the medical profession believe that ‘children don’t have strokes’?!   Maybe, just maybe, the article has some wisdom not only for parents – but perhaps also for the doctors treating these children.

The ‘Times’ article has a good link for a basic understanding of the signs and symptoms of stroke.  Take a moment and familiarize yourself with these so that when you are told ‘children don’t have strokes’ – maybe you can ‘share’ the news that this is nonsense so that precious hours of needed care are not wasted!