Who Did It?
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Who Did It?

In the latest dilemma brought to moderator Rachel Stein, a mother reacts to a damage claim against her son.

Rachel Stein

Toco Hills resident Rachel Stein writes about spirituality and, working with readers, tries to help community members deal with dilemmas.

Jumping with excitement, Nathan torpedoed onto my bed on his first day of kindergarten. Shuddering, my first hazy thought was that this was a vivid nightmare, and I prayed to be released from its clutches.

“Is it time for school yet?” Nathan wanted to know, prying my eyes open with pudgy fingers.

“Darling,” I croaked, “it’s very dark outside. Even the roosters are still sleeping. Please go back to sleep.”

“But what if we miss my bus? I don’t want to be late.”

With a deep sigh, I rolled over, wedged my eyes closed and tried to re-enter that delicious zone of dreamland. Alas, it was not to be. Five minutes later, those fingers were at it again.

“Mommy,” he said urgently, “a whole hour went by! My teacher won’t like it if I’m late. It’s my very first day.”

Propping myself up on my elbow, I gazed into the chocolate eyes that mirrored my own and let out a breath. Resigned to my fate, I swung my legs onto the floor. I suppose there are advantages to starting the day early.

Pancakes were whipped up and served, lunches were packed, and, at long last, my starry-eyed child waved and ascended his school bus. Wiping my eyes — from emotion, relief, exhaustion or a combination — I waved back until the bus disappeared.

The call came a few weeks later.

“Mrs. Schwartz?”

“Yes?” I answered distractedly, continuing to edit my piece. While I cradled the phone between shoulder and ear, my eyes roved down the page, adding, slicing and spicing as needed.

“Mr. Klein requests that you come in for a meeting today or first thing tomorrow.”

Mr. Klein? The principal of Nathan’s school? Was there a problem?

Tearing my eyes away from my work, I gave my full attention to the secretary.

“Is there some sort of problem?” I asked, surprised. Nathan always came home happy, and no one had contacted me to tell me otherwise.

“Well,” she said, “your Nathan broke his classroom door. And on the registration policy, there is a clause that says parents are responsible for damages.”

“May I speak with Mr. Klein, please?” I demanded. I didn’t have time for shenanigans. Deadlines loomed, and, besides, who makes a big deal out of a 6-year-old’s escapade?

Later that day found me sitting across from the middle-aged principal, gazing at his serious mien and steepled fingers. Do they teach them to do that in principal school?

“Apparently Nathan continued slamming the door even after Miss Brown instructed him to stop,” Mr. Klein said. “Replacing the door costs over $300.”

I let out a gasp. They teach that in parent school.

“Mr. Klein, I have one question for you.” Swallowing hard, I donned a mask of composure and went for defense. “Where was the supervision while this, uh, misdemeanor was occurring?”

“The teacher was present,” Mr. Klein replied, and I began counting the creases in his forehead. “She told him to stop, but he was noncompliant.”

“I see.” I folded my arms across my chest and gazed steadily into his eyes. “Do you mean to tell me that this teacher had no other means at her disposal to stop a child’s misbehavior? Perhaps she should foot the bill.”

Mr. Klein drew a sharp breath. “Parents are responsible for their children, Mrs. Schwartz. It says so in Clause 3 of our registration agreement — that if a child causes unusual damage to school property, parents agree to reimburse the school.”

“And what about teachers’ responsibilities? Do they have to sign anything prior to employment?”

Mr. Klein opened his mouth, then snapped his lips closed. “Mrs. Schwartz, my secretary will send you the invoice, and we would appreciate your dealing with this issue in a timely manner.”

Somehow, I didn’t think he was hearing me. Pushing my chair back, I got up and headed toward the door.

However, I had no intention of paying the bill. As far as I’m concerned, the adults on campus are responsible to supervise the children, especially at that age. And if this was allowed to happen, there was an obvious lack of liability.

So who do you think is accountable, the 6-year-old and his parents or the staff on site? I welcome hearing from you and hope your advice will guide me in resolving my dilemma.

Please respond to rachels83@gmail.com by Monday, May 22, to have your responses printed in the next column.

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