August 23, 2019

August marks the end of summer break for many Chicagoland schools and the return to college campuses as well. While the break from school has also signaled a pause in school incidences, there has been no respite for acts of violence this summer in public places, making many parents wary of Back to School months, whether August, September or beyond.

“With the constant influx of information through the media, it’s hard for a parent not to fear for their child’s safety at school whether that ‘child’ is a toddler, teenager or college student,” says Jeffrey Kroll, Partner with Kaveny + Kroll Trial Lawyers in Chicago. “But, it’s important to remember that, although so much focus is put on school shootings, there are other, far more common areas to focus on to assure that your child is safe at school.” Kroll knows his A,B,C’s when it comes to school safety, having secured verdicts on behalf of victims injured and killed on campuses including Northern Illinois University in DeKalb and Rolling Meadows High School among others. “In truth, your child is far more likely to face danger on the athletic fields, playgrounds, surrounding streets and campus common areas,” says Kroll.

As part of the Back to School planning process, Kroll recommends a “review” of some of the areas that can prove dangerous to children, to determine if changes need to be made before a problem occurs:


Athletic and Play Facilities: Kroll has personally experienced athletic injury with his own high schooler on the playing fields as well as professionally in the case of a young man who was rendered a quadriplegic after coming into contact with an unpadded 25 foot high steel pole on the sidelines of a football practice field. Kroll’s winning verdict contended that the presence of this hazard so close to a practice field violated the rules of the National Federation of State High School Associations. Other cases have found dangerous conditions in school pools as well. “Parents have the right, and the responsibility, to note hazards that may exist on school property, whether it be on the football field or the playground. “More children get injured from falls off of unsafe playground equipment than anyone would ever suspect. If the facility doesn’t look safe, it probably isn’t, and parents have every right to request that changes be made.”

Building/Campus Security: Unfortunately, this hits to the heart of most parents these days. Many school age children routinely have safety drills as part of the curriculum which addresses what to do in case of a school shooter or other criminal threat. “Our world has changed significantly over the past decades, years and often weeks, with the ‘new’ threats that we all face in public settings,” says Kroll. “It’s important to remember that schools can be forewarned and forearmed in protecting their students even in this arena.” Many schools employ security systems to enter or move around the building, with some city schools utilizing metal detectors as well. Parents can be the first line of defense in assuring that their child’s school does NOT have easy access or multiple entry points into the building. Each district has their own public safety individual or team whose job is to protect and respond to security threats. “If you find that you can enter and wander around your child’s school easily and at will, this poses a problem that needs to be brought to the administration,” says Kroll. “As much as we like to have access to our children, during the school day, the only ones who should be wandering the halls are students and school staff.”

Bus Transportation: If your child goes to and from school via school bus, it’s important to advocate for safe vehicles, drivers and laws. “The tragedy last fall involving the death of three young children on a Northern Indiana road after a truck ignored the stopped bus, was a reminder of the necessity to always yield in front of, behind or next to a school bus,” says Kroll. “School bus stops need to be well marked and the vehicles themselves need to have working Stop signals that extend to warn drivers. Parents can walk or drive a school bus route prior to their child boarding this year, to assure that these precautions exist. Driving records, reviews and safety standards are another big issue in assuring that those transporting our children are up to the task. If you are unsure, you can inquire at your school or district.” Other ways to help assure safe transport can be as simple as leaving with time to spare to avoid the ‘mad dash’ for the bus, standing back from the road as the bus pulls up and not using the ride as an opportunity to move around or rough and tumble.

Pedestrian Safety: Many children walk to and from school, meaning that our streets and intersections need to properly marked and ‘managed’. “Even in the absence of crossing guards, which do not exist in every school area or neighborhood, parents can join together to assure safe passage for kids by volunteering,” says Kroll. “Many city schools have ‘Kiss and Go’ programs that are completely monitored by parent volunteers and have prevented incidences from occurring by their mere presence and watchfulness. If your school doesn’t have one, the local PTA, School Council or Administration can assist in its formation.” Again, sometimes simple solutions provide strong results. If a parent is not walking their child to school, encourage walking in groups, wearing bright colors to be visible to traffic and always walking on the sidewalk whenever possible. If a crossing guard is not ‘in play’, remind children the age old rule of looking both ways before crossing streets or alleyways.

Finally, despite the best intentions, accidents do occur in all areas of life including schools. In these instances, Jeffrey Kroll suggests asking the following three questions to determine if there is negligence involved:


-What did ‘they’ (those deemed to be in charge) know?
-When did they know it?
-What did they do about it?

“Simply put, if a hazard exists on school property and it has been brought to the attention of the proper ‘authorities’ and no action has been taken, this may constitute negligence or liability,” says Kroll. “If despite a parent’s best efforts, a system is unresponsive to creating and maintaining a safe environment, they are not up to the task of assuring a secure environment for your child.”