Unsafe Schools: Avoidable Personal Injuries
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Unsafe Schools: Avoidable Personal Injuries

Monday, March 02, 2009By Richard Alexander

School should be a place where students can learn in an atmosphere of security and safety, but every year school districts in California and across the nation pay millions of dollars on settlements and lawsuits for personal injuries to student they have caused.

Approximately 4 million students suffer personal injuries at school every year. That means that with a 180-day school calendar, more than 22,000 students will suffer an injury every school day, many of them serious and life-altering.In addition, negligent administrators, teachers and coaches are draining schools of funds that should be used for education, not medication and hospitalization. School-related injuries to children ages 14 and under result in an estimated $3.4 billion in medical services every year. That's money that would have a much more positive impact if it would go for books and classroom supplies.

Many children suffer personal injuries before they even get to school because we have seat belt laws for drivers and passengers in cars, but we don't require seat belts on school buses. This missing safety equipment endangers bus riders, and it gives students the message that it's all right not to wear a seat belt when they start to drive.

Making buses safer is one way to reduce student injuries, but other injuries have a wide range of causes. Many of them are simply the results of kids acting like kids, but other injuries result from either negligence or misconduct by teachers, administrators, or other school employees, and those injuries are completely preventable.

In California, the law guarantees all students and staff a safe learning environment. As employees of a school district, teachers and administrators have a legal responsibility to supervise their students to keep them safe.

One cause of many school injuries is bullying. Bullying injuries are intentional, and they can be severe. Bullying injuries also leave emotional scars, and school districts have a responsibility to recognize bullying and to deal strongly with the offenders. In the internet world, cyberbullying has become common, and the physical style of bullying is still prevalent on school grounds.

In Arkansas, one boy was a victim of bullying for many years, and the district did not properly protect him. The boy's parents have filed a lawsuit against some of the bullies and against the district. This is a lawsuit that will have no winners, but it's one that should deliver a message to school leaders everywhere that they have a legal responsibility for the safety of all their students.

One of the most dangerous parts of any school is the playground. Giving children a good, safe place to burn off excess energy during the school day is a necessity, and studies have found that children who have recess perform better in school than those who don't get a chance to have some fun and act like kids.

Play is a normal part of childhood. Left alone, children will play all day, but it's leaving children unsupervised on a playground that contributes to many injuries. That's a situation that actually occurs more frequently on school playgrounds than on public playgrounds.

Another common playground problem is that young children frequently play on equipment that isn't appropriate for their ages. By making certain that children play on the proper equipment, it is possible to reduce the number of injuries and their severity.

Teachers who deny children recess because of bad behavior in the classroom are actually contributing to the behavior problem. And some schools are actually finding a way to improve student performance by allowing students to stand during class.

Only when something genuinely awful happens at school does it grab media attention, but injuries happen every day at school, and many of them are avoidable. Children who are in an emergency room aren't learning, and every school should have a comprehensive policy to keep students safe.

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