Monday, August 15, 2011

Tsunami Repercussions and the Court Trials Begin (part two)

In yesterday's post I blogged about some parents who were suing a school for sending the children home by bus only to have those children die in the tsunami as their homes were on the coastline. In Tsunami Repercussions and the Court Trials Begin (part 1) I wrote that I think the parent's are trying to placate their own guilt and ignore their own responsibility for their children's deaths:

Had the earthquake hit an hour later or at dinner time or at night or early morning or some other time of the year, where would these kids have been? At home. At their parent's home that those parent's bought along the coastline... A coastline that was engulfed by a tsunami and destroyed... And not for the first time either.
The parents suing the school will not bring those children back... Nor will it placate their guilt and responsibility in this matter. 
School's need to stick by the book and not allow parent's to shirk their responsibility. Parents need to take a more holistic view on their children's safety.
In fact, today's parents depend on school for far too much so this is why we have so many problems with the family and complaint's about "today's youth".

The parent's might win this court case, but they won't win any money. They can't. Japanese law does not allow for "damages." If they did, it's one more step towards Japan becoming screwed up like the USA with court cases like this popping up everywhere. What I mean by that is people make bad decisions on life and do irresponsible things (like driving with a hot cup of coffee on their lap) and then suing someone else for their lack of common sense.
In the case above, the school does hold some responsibility... But I think the vast majority of the children's health and welfare responsibility is held by the parents. In fact, I think that this is painfully obvious an just plain common sense. 

It is a tragedy that so many children and parents have suffered, but to place blame and try to take money seems shallow to me. According to charities in Japan over 100,000 children have been displaced by this disaster. Who can blame another human for this story of suffering? 

"If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her." - John 8:7

Here is an experience that another parent told me about concerning their child's school. In that case, the school wasn't about to allow the children to leave even though the parent had arrived to take that child home!

In our first case, the school is being sued by the parents. The school may have shirked its duties. In the case I will relate to you from now, the school may have way overstepping its authority. Here's the details as told to me. What do you, dear reader, think?

Here's the story related to me by my friend:

"Thirty minutes or so after the big shock ended, I drove the car to pick up our child from school. The children had been evacuated to the school sports field  and the school wasn't allowing any of the children to leave until the "all clear" was issued.
Upon coming to the school gate, a guard man stopped me. He said that the children were not being allowed to leave just yet. 
Even as the guard tried to explain, I smiled at him and politely - but firmly - said that I was there to pickup my child and I walked forward in spite of his protestations. He waved to a young woman who worked in the school office. She quickly approached me and told me that the children weren’t being allowed to leave because the “all clear” has not been given yet. Once again, I firmly told her that I am the child’s father and that I have the right and responsibility to decide if it is all clear for my child or not.
She protested. “Where do you have to go that’s so important?” she asked.
It was none of her business but I replied anyway, “My child has after school lessons.”
She was shocked and insisted that the children must stay where they were. I didn’t get angry at her but responded, “Alright then, who then has the authority to give the permission for children to leave?”
She said that the headmaster of the school did. I then approached him. I said, “Mr. Smith (not his real name) I appreciate everything that you do and I appreciate that you are protecting the children. But now I am here and there is no one who has more responsibility for my child’s safety than I do. Now I must take my child home.”
He politely countered, “But the all clear has not been issued!”
“Who issues the all clear?” I asked.
I didn’t get a straight answer from him. I gathered that it was possible that this had not been well thought-out before and even he didn't have a clear answer to that question. They were "playing it by ear". 
All the while we were having this conversation, there were dozens of parents standing around awaiting directions as to what to do. Another teacher then approached and he and the headmaster explained to me that they couldn’t let the children leave because, if they did let some children leave, they would have no way of knowing which kids were gone and which kids were still under their care. 
I said it wasn’t my problem if they had an accounting system in place for this problem or not.
For one, whether the school has a system to account for these kids or not, is their problem, not mine. And to extrapolate from that then, because they don’t have said system, why are we being held hostage for lack of this sort of paperwork problem? It is the school’s responsibility to hold drills and to make arrangements like this. Not mine. I have made my arrangements at home. 
I thought that this situation was absurd. I am the father. I am there. I am responsible for my child’s safety. I have the right to decide everything. My authority exceeds theirs in every sense of the word.

Of course if the parent’s are not present to take the children home, the school must take responsibility. But once the parent arrives, the school must completely relinquish control over the child to the parent. The school's responsibility to the child can never override the parent's. If necessary, the school needs to prepare some sort of paperwork and chain of responsibility as to who has the right to remove the child from school premises such as grandparents, aunts and uncles, etc. They also need to implement the system so that proof of identity is required to take a child home in an emergency. If the school does not, the parent must arrange such with the school. 
As it was, the school quickly relented for me to take my child out of the school grounds. Upon going to the gate to leave, a young woman stopped me once again and asked for my child's name and class number so she could check a list and let us leave. Embarrassingly for her my child’s name was not listed on the computer print out she had. I told her the name. She wrote it down - incorrectly, I might add. 

Then she failed to ask for my name and ID and we walked out the gate. 
So much for not allowing children to leave because they "can’t keep track of which students have left and which have stayed."  
I explained the entire situation to my wife and child told them that if there ever was a very serious life-threatening situation that I would go to school and even if the school did not allow us to leave, we would find a way to escape. 

We were in Tokyo. The earthquake was nearly 250 kilometers away. We were most definitely not in a life-threatening situation in spite of how much people and the news sensationalize this crisis."

That's what this irate father told me about how his child's school handled the situation. 

Now, my take on this...

In the court case where the school allegedly shirked responsibility by sending children home too quickly and those children died in the tsunami: The children's homes were near the ocean. Is the school guilty of incompetence by sending the children home too soon? Yes. True, perhaps. But it is quite understandable in such a situation that the school would want to get the children back to their parent's custody as soon as possible.

For the school, this seems a "damned if you do, damned if you don't" situation.

In the second example: The school over stepped its authority and wasn't going to release a child into parental custody. In this second case, where the school wasn't going to surrender the child to the parent, had that child died or been injured, then I think the parent would have every right to sue the school and win. The school's reasoning that they are responsible for the child's well-being even after the parent arrives to receive the child is confused policy and out and out wrong in every possible sense.

Seth Godin had a good comment about this on a recent blog. He wrote:

Of course, the hard-working folks doing the detaining feel like they're doing their job. It's easy to measure. It's in the manual. It feels like progress. It's actually a cargo cult, though, the sort of thing an organization does to simulate progress when it's actually distracting itself from the mission at hand.

Fear can be used as a tactic, but it's almost never the end goal of marketing. The problem with using it as a tactic is that it's so easy to do, organizations almost always forget the real point of the exercise.

Absolutely right; "...organizations almost always forget the real point of the exercise." 

The question is: "What is the real point of the exercise?" "What is the point of taking the children to an evacuation area while at school?"

The answer is: "To protect them until they can be delivered into the safety of the parent's custody."

School's should never forget the ultimate purpose of their emergency drills and services. The parent's right are always top priority. Following the rules until the parents relieve the school's of the responsibility of caring for the children is the goal. 

That should never be forgotten. Any other result opens the schools up for being sued in court. Any smart administrator would be wise to consider these cases.


Anonymous said...

*Loco parentis* is "the legal doctrine under which an individual assumes parental rights, duties, and obligations without going through the formalities of legal adoption."

The public schools use this to make decisions concerning the students. During my tenure of many years in the public school system, I saw lock downs, students maced and taken away by the police, and a system set in place that if a "terrorist" attack or major catastrophe were to take place, no one, including faculty and staff, would be allowed to leave the building for an extended period of time. The school system in which I worked was not an urban area!

Does Japan use this legal doctrine?

I left education and have never looked back!


Anonymous said...

"She quickly approached me and told me that the children weren’t being allowed to leave because the “all clear” has not been given yet."

"He politely countered, “But the all clear has not been issued!”"

The system is replacing the individuals.

That reminds me of a 78 year old man who refused to let a grocery store clerk scan his ID to purchase a bottle of Vodka.
The old man was disgusted he was even being asked for ID let alone be refused for not allowing his ID to be scanned.

The grocery clerk was basically saying, "The all clear has not been issued." She asked the old man if he wanted her to get a store manager over to check his ID.

The old man said, no, he was in a hurry. But I could tell he was simply offended and didn't want to buy the product, he paid for his other groceries and left.

The grocery store clerk acted mad, as if the old man had offended her or something.

The same thing happened to me over a can of compressed air.

- Clark

Marc Sheffner said...

Very interesting story. Thanks for posting. It raises all kinds of issues, but primarily (I think) it shows how important it is for folks to understand their duties and responsibilities and those of the various institutions they interact with. As an example, perhaps many people would have been stopped by the words "but the all-clear has not yet been given". What is assumed is that the parent would appreciate that taking their child away at this stage would put the school in the invidious position of not fulfilling their duties (and vulnerable to criticism/punishment from higher-ups in the education authority), would then realize that the school's duties take precedence (remember, Japan is a vertical society, so this kind of mental juggling is always going on), and would then back down.

How many are 100% clear that the Japanese school is legally "in loco parentis"? And that the parent's authority trumps the school's? I'd wager that many would waver because they're not sure. They've never thought about it.

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