Childrearing

School Makes Huge Field Trip Slip Safety Error, 2 Kids Die, And These Parents Need To Sue

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landlide victim escue wrkersA while back I wrote about park on the upper west side of Manhattan that had rival groups of parents up in arms to the point of a lawsuit. I am the type of person who thinks most lawsuits are frivolous, at least in the US, and that case was no exception. In stark contrast is a different story, also about child safety, that showcases one of the few times I not only condone a lawsuit, but would absolutely encourage one.

In the city of St. Paul, Minnesota, Peter Hobart Elementary decided to take two fourth grade classes on a field trip to Lilydale Regional Park. What started out a fun trip to hunt for fossils ended in tragedy when two students, Mohammed Fofana and Haysem Sani, were killed in a landslide and two others were severely injured.

Now Lilydale isn’t our typical manicured area park with swings, maybe a grassy field and what not. No, Lilydale is a 384 acre nature preserve that runs near the Mississippi river. It’s a hugely popular area for both amateur and professional fossil hunters and it requires you to apply for a permit for usage. On that permit application, St. Paul is crystal clear that the park can be dangerous, stating that “some of the conditions and locations within the Lilydale Regional Park area are hazardous to persons or property.” You are also required to assume all liability for any and all injures that happen at the park.

The problem here is that while the teacher, Tara Wetzel, who applied for the permit signed the waiver, she did not live up to the agreement, which also states that you must accept responsibility for making the dangerous conditions known. That would obviously include the parents of minor children, but apparently this wasn’t something the school thought important enough to put on the permission slip.

According to Danielle Meldahl,  whose 10-year-old boy suffered a skull and rib fracture along with a badly broken leg:

“They should have consulted with us and let us know: The area’s not a very safe area. There’s caves. There’s cliffs. Are you OK with us taking your child down there? I don’t think I would have let Devin go if I knew the situation.”

The field trip info sheet that the school sent to parents mentioned absolutely nothing about any serious danger, simply saying to be prepared for “hiking, climbing, and getting muddy.” It also noted that the fossil hunt would be held regardless of the weather, which according to geologists was a bad idea as rain most likely had a role in the landslide.

Of course, as most organizations that make a HUGE mistake do, St. Louis Park Public Schools declined to allow a representative to be interviews, instead opting to release a statement.

“Despite our sadness over this incident, the School District is attempting to move forward as best as it can. We currently are preparing for the 2013-14 school year. While our plans are directed toward the future, the School District will continue to provide additional support for the students, families and staff impacted by this tragedy, as they have not been forgotten.”

The entire story is just heartbreaking. Devin, the boy with the broken leg, was buried over his head under rocks and mud after it came pouring down from a bluff 40 feet above him. If his teacher, Sarah Reichert, hadn’t seen his hair sticking out of the mud, he would most likely be dead right now.

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