Last week in central Indiana, a bunch of kids were performing their big finale in their school concert at Westfield High School when the stage suddenly broke apart and the performers dropped into the orchestra pit beneath the auditorium stage. Luckily, one of the audience members was filming the performance and caught the event as between 10 and 15 kids were dancing and singing on stage when the floor collapsed beneath them. We can all watch and see exactly what happened here.
At first, national news reports (like this one from the Associated Press) were that the children were not really hurt in the stage collapse. However, later reports are that over a dozen of the high school students did sustain injuries when the flooring over the school’s orchestra pit failed and collapsed. Several had to be treated at the hospital; luckily, they were all back home within 24 hours.
Lots of questions are being asked about when inspections were made of the stage flooring for safety and building code compliance. Others are questioning what if any state laws, rules, or regulations apply to public school stages like this one in the Westfield High School auditorium.
Right now, federal and state inspectors are involved in finding out why this accident happened: even Indiana Governor Mike Pence got involved, issuing a statement from his office that every effort would be made “…to prevent this or worse from happening in the future.”
How Safe Is Your Kid’s School?
The stage collapse at a high school located 20 miles north of Indianapolis has people all over our area of Indiana and Illinois wondering how safe it is to send our children off to schools each day. It’s not just the danger of kids being hurt while playing sports that is the question now — parents have a right to be concerned about whether or not the school facilities themselves are safe.
Inspections may be assumed to be taking place in public schools by parents who see OSHA materials around their workplace, or know that both federal and state agencies monitor buildings where they work or shop. However, a big question coming out of this Westfield High accident is just who is monitoring the facilities where kids and teenagers are going each day for school?
School Duty to Keep Kids Out of Danger
It is understood by most everyone that a school (teachers, coaches, aides) and the school district have a duty to keep those students in a safe environment while the children are in their care and control. School districts have rules and regulations in place to make sure that each individual school within its jurisdiction is safe for the students.
However, recent years have tended to focus that concern for a safe school environment on things like safety during sports (concussion injuries during football, soccer, etc.) and keeping kids protected from bullies and actions by other students.
While schools and school districts have a duty to protect the children from defects and dangers in the school’s infrastructure, building and surrounding grounds, the inspection queries that popped up during the last week suggest that not much concern or action has been involved here.
Are Indiana schools or Illinois schools being negligent right now insofar as protecting kids from the danger of accidents caused by failing structural problems on the school property? It’s a good question.
And one that has already been answered for lots of kids at Westfield High.