MACNAIR: Schools should not be liable for stupidity of youth

There used to be a saying: boys will be boys. It was a catch-all phrase explaining the rather bizarre, confounding and frustrating ways children act out as they grow up.

Back before the bubble wrap generation, kids used to do all kinds of crazy things that would make their adult selves shake their collective heads.

How do I know? I was one of those boys. The trouble I got into could not be fit into the limited space of a newspaper column. Oh, I don’t mean serious trouble. But I’ve participated in my share of face-in-hands stupidity.

At the age of 10, I was playing with matches and accidentally set fire to a dumpster outside of a school. The firefighters tracked me down, after I fled the scene, and lectured me on my idiocy.

A year later, I climbed onto my elementary school’s roof after hours and proceeded to have fun smashing classroom windows. In the process I cut myself by accident, leaving a bit of forensic evidence at the scene (I still have the scar). The next day the principal called me out on my actions and, despite my firm denials, I was properly punished.

Why am I confessing to all of this?

Well, the truth is, although I regret my actions in hindsight, I was an unrepentant brat at the time. And no amount of prevention on the part of adults could have stopped me.

My parents and teachers both used corporal punishment, disciplinary actions that involved the now-comical Bart Simpson-esque writing of "I will not" thousands of times and even threatened me with dire consequences. Didn’t matter. I did what I wanted and adults had little power to prevent me from doing it.

Which is why I find it disturbing and a little disappointing to learn that the Surrey School District has been found 75 per cent liable by a judge in a 2008 incident where a student fell off the roof of a White Rock elementary school.

On March 4, 2008, a Grade 7 student at Peace Arch Elementary climbed onto the roof of his school with a friend, after hours. When they realized their principal knew they were on the roof, the pair tried to jump down. While one made it down safely, the other lost his grip and fell into a concrete stairwell, injuring himself and eventually needing two weeks in hospital to recover.

At the heart of the issue was a cherry tree that allowed the students access to climb onto the roof. The boy’s family alleged the district failed to remove the temptation of the tree and the court agreed. In her decision, Justice Neena Sharma said it should be expected that a reasonable person would understand that a child might try climbing a tree close to a roof.

The onus was put on the school to prevent children from doing what they knew they ought not to be doing in the first place. But here’s the thing: the tree had nothing to do with it.

My elementary schools were always putting up barricades and barriers to prevent kids like myself from climbing on the roof. But we saw it as a new challenge. It wasn’t so much an obstacle as an exciting opportunity to be the first kid to overcome the silly attempt by adults to keep us from doing what we were going to do.

This isn’t the first frivolous lawsuit mired in stupidity that the Surrey school district has had to fight. Another 2008 incident in which a Grade 6 student was shoved during recess resulted in years of litigation, alleging improper recess supervision and ensuring a safe school ground. The district countersued for bad parenting.

Oh boy. You should have seen the bloody noses on my school playground. We were actually allowed to play full contact games back then. If you weren’t hurt at least once a week, you weren’t really playing hard enough.

Why can’t we just let kids be kids? Schools and parents can’t stop every nosebleed and they certainly can’t stop determined delinquents (like I was) from doing ill-advised things.

Just breathe deeply and relax. Your outof-control kid today might just be writing a newspaper column in 30 years.

Adrian MacNair is a staff reporter and photographer with the Now. He can be reached at

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