A good public school system is one of the principal building blocks for American society. School is special in many respects. Attendance is mandatory, up to a certain age. Once there, participation is hard to enforce, and the expectations are demanding on teachers, administrators, staff, bus drivers, coaches, and others. Still, the one expectation that surpasses all others is that schools keep children safe. Given how complex and wide-ranging school duties can be, this can refer to many areas.
Take a typical elementary school day: children wait at the bus stop, get on the bus, get to school, and walk to class with their peers. There are twenty-five or so students in the class to one teacher, each student with varying needs and abilities. The students eventually go out to play on the playground equipment, along with students older and younger than themselves. They go to lunch, gym class, shop class, they have a fire, earthquake, or school shooting safety drill. After school, they attend practice for one of the school's sports teams. The student is picked up from practice by a parent or other person.
At each step of the way, the school has duties to thoughtfully plan out safety. Schools have a special relationship, meaning they have to protect the students, in each facet of the day. This includes protecting them from themselves, each other, outside dangers, or other foreseeable harms.
Here are some examples—please note this is by no means an exhaustive list, it is just to give an idea into the ways in which schools have to exercise foresight:
- The school bus stop must be in a safe place, and the bus drivers must be licensed and trained appropriately, and driving with safe bus equipment;
- The administration must ensure that the teachers are not only well-qualified, but that they also will not present any hazards to the students or other school workers;
- Teachers must be trained and informed of any gang violence or other problems. Similarly, the administration must know which children have a checkered past that could allow them to be a danger to others, and in what ways. They must develop plans to keep the peace;
- The playground equipment must meet safety standards, be age-appropriate, and maintained for regular use. Faulty equipment must be safely taken out of service, and monitors have to keep children from using the unsafe structures, while keeping them appropriately playing within the bounds of the school;
- The food at lunch must be purchased from a reputable vendor, and cooked according to health code standards;
- The gymnasium wall padding must meet industry safety standards, as well as any workout or exercise equipment used;
- The students must be trained to safely use the machinery in shop class, and supervised while they are using dangerous tools;
- The safety drills must prepare the students to deal with various emergencies that might come up in a safe and orderly manner;
- The school must make sure the students remain at the practice facility or area, with people who should have the privilege of being on the teams, academically and behaviorally, and while developing skills to better their athletic pursuits, not be exposed to techniques or training that will cause needless danger; and
- The students must have a safe way to get home, thus completing the “door-to-door” safety goals of all schools.
Many of the duties mentioned above come from real cases. School bus stops have been placed in dangerous scenarios, students have injured one another because the school turned a blind eye to violent behavior, school play equipment has been put into use when it shouldn't have been, etc.
The point is, schools must keep students safe. They know the ways in which they should be carrying out that duty, and they sometimes get it wrong. The safety of the students does not just happen by accident; it happens by exercising appropriate foresight. Similarly, many injuries at schools do not happen by accident; they happen because of a failing of the safety system that was put in place to protect the students.