Back to School Should Not Mean Back To Emergency Rooms

Back to School Should Not Mean Back To Emergency Rooms

Anecdotal reports of the scourge that is ‘back-to-school-itis’ begin to trickle in around the August long weekend. “Is vacation really half over?” ask children who show early symptoms. Tension mounts as more stores start advertising back-to-school sales. By Labour Day, the impending sense of school-age dread reaches a crescendo.

Of course, this seasonal affliction’s effects are generally short-lived. First-day nerves and jitters usually dissipate by the time recess rolls around.

Unfortunately, there are plenty of other ways children can suffer serious injuries in the first few days and weeks that follow the start of the new school year.

In this blog post, I outline some of the most common school-related injuries and offer tips on how to help keep children safe.

Where Are ‘Back to School’ Injuries Likely to Happen?

The majority of school injuries happen at one of three times during the days: drop-off, pick-up and recess.

When cars and buses congregate around the school for arrival and dismissal, students are at greater risk of being involved in a motor vehicle accident. In these crowded areas, it’s all too easy for a momentary lapse of attention to result in injury. Even vehicles moving at slow speeds can cause serious harm if a child is caught between a vehicle and a stationary object or if they get caught under a wheel or the vehicle.

Many schools have monitors and/or crossing guards to help keep traffic controlled, but accidents can and still do happen when people are in a rush or excited.

Speaking of excitement, it’s definitely not in short supply at recess. As kids burst through the doors to the school yard and playground, they are free to engage in semi-supervised play. Teachers, teaching assistants and other school staff will be on yard duty to monitor children at play, but with many more children than adults in the area, not all preventable accidents will be stopped in time.

What Are Common ‘Back to School’ Accidents and Injuries?

During these periods of the day, several types of accidents and injuries are more likely to occur, including:

  • Playground equipment accidents - Falls from equipment can cause concussions or other head trauma, broken bones, dislocated joints, sprains, strains, cuts, bruising, internal bleeding and even strangulation if ropes or chains become tangled or wrapped around a child’s neck.
  • Schoolyard fights - Children can be impulsive generally and some children may have particular challenges trying to stay regulated. Physical fights among children (rock-throwing, punching, pushing, scratching) can all cause minor to major injuries.
  • Accidental slips, trips and falls - While at play, children may fall and/or land awkwardly when running, skipping, or playing games. Broken or sprained ankles and wrists are common, as are injuries to knees and elbows.
  • Motor vehicle accidents - Whether they are in a car/bus that is involved in a collision or a pedestrian that has been hit, motor vehicle accidents may cause head and spine trauma, fractures, and soft tissue trauma.
  • Sports injuries - Beyond casual playground games, sports played at recess or in physical education classes can be a source of concussions, fractures, cuts and bruising.

What Other Types of School Injuries Are There?

While the accidents and injuries listed above are the most common ways children are injured at school, there are other types of school-related injuries that can cause tremendous harm.

  • Severe allergic reactions - Food and environmental allergies are becoming more common. Although most schools will have policies to reduce the likelihood that a child is exposed to life-threatening allergens (for example, nut-free lunch policies), a child could go into anaphylactic shock if they have a severe allergy to food, chemicals, insect bites, or other allergens.
  • Leaving school property - Whether a child is “a runner” or is intentionally taken off school property without permission, there are many potential dangers if a child leaves school property without the knowledge of their teachers, staff or other supervisors.
  • Physical and sexual assault/abuse - All school employees are subject to police background checks due to the vulnerable nature of the children in their care. Unfortunately, there still can be incidences of physical or sexual assaults/abuse perpetrated by school employees or fellow students.
  • Psychological abuse/bullying - Peer relationships and peer/teacher approval are very important for children. If a child is harassed on a continual basis due to their appearance, gender, race, sexuality, ability, class, or for other reasons, it can have serious consequences for their mental health - both in the short-term and long-term.

Safety Tips for School Age Children.

There are times when a child could not have done anything to prevent their injury. However, by teaching your child preventative safety measures, you can help reduce their risk of injury (or the severity of their injury).

Some general school safety tips include:

  • Observing their surroundings at all times (looking both ways when crossing streets, waiting for cars to completely stop at crossings, watching their step).
  • Taking steps to make themselves visible to motor vehicle drivers (making eye contact with drivers when crossing the street, not running between cars, wearing bright clothes or having reflective material on backpacks).
  • Avoiding game play that involves contact or rough-housing.
  • Asking a teacher or supervisor for help if they feel unsafe.
  • Alerting a teacher if they witness other students being unsafe or if they spot a hazard on school property that hasn’t been marked off with a warning sign.
  • Talking to teachers and parents if they feel they are being bullied by other students or school staff.
  • Having an epi-pen or other allergy medication on hand (and alerting the school to allergies/medications).
  • Paying attention to instructions and wearing all necessary safety equipment when playing sports.
  • Reporting any injuries, such as falls or blows to the head, to a teacher/supervisor, even if they seem minor.

Who Is Responsible For Injuries at School?

If your child is seriously injured or becomes permanently disabled while going to school, at school, or on the way home from school, their young lives may be changed forever. In some cases, if another person’s intentional or negligent actions/inaction causes or contributes to their injury, they may be liable for damages and compensation.

Determining liability is a complex process that is based on applicable statutory law, common law and specific facts. Often courts are asked to rule on whether a person is liable for another person’s injury or to decide what proportion of liability they have.

It’s always advisable to contact an experienced personal injury lawyer to investigate the circumstances of an accident or injury. They can help inform you of your rights and whether you may have an actionable claim. It’s also important to determine if liability may be shared by multiple people or institutions.

In terms of common school accidents, there are certain questions to ask when determining potential liability. For example:

Car/Bus Drivers - If a child is injured a passenger in a car or bus or as a pedestrian/cyclist, you might ask:

  • Did police lay charges against an at-fault driver?
  • Did the accident occur outside the vicinity of the school?
  • Was there or should there have been supervision of the child at the time of the injury?
  • Did the child’s own negligence cause or contribute to the injury?
  • Is the child of an age when they could/should be expected to take greater personal care/precautions?

Teachers/Principals/School Staff/School Boards - If a child is hurt while in school or during recess, you may ask:

  • Who was primarily responsible for the child’s safety at the time of the accident/incident?
  • Were the adults responsible for the child’s safety following Ministry of Education and school/school board guidelines and rules?
  • Did the teacher/principal act ‘in loco parentis’?
  • Were they acting in the way a reasonably prudent parent would act given the same circumstances?
  • Was the person supervising familiar with the child?
  • Were the premises where the child was injured kept reasonably safe from known hazards?
  • Did the child’s own negligence cause or contribute to their injury?
  • Is the child of an age when they could/should be expected to take greater personal care/precautions?

Students/Parents - If another student was primarily or partially responsible for another student’s injuries, you may ask:

  • Was this student able to understand the reasonable consequences of their actions?
  • Was this student previously identified as someone who had acted dangerously, caused harm, or attempted to cause harm to other students (or particularly your child)?
  • Who was or who should have been supervising your child? Were they distracted?
  • Were the student’s parents grossly negligent in teaching the child appropriate behaviour or did they encourage unsafe behaviour?
  • Did the child’s own negligence cause or contribute to their injury?
  • Is the child of an age when they could/should be expected to take greater personal care/precautions?

Help When You’ve Been Hurt.

Back to school time will always be filled with a mix of joy, nerves, excitement and weary resignation among school age children. But there should be no room for preventable injuries within that mix. Teaching your children good school safety habits can help keep them out of harm’s way; but it may still not be enough to counter the negligent or intentional acts of another person.

If a serious injury does occur, reach out to Gluckstein Personal Injury Lawyers for a no cost, no obligation initial consultation. Our injury lawyers will listen to your story with great empathy and provide information about your rights and options. If we believe we can help you get compensation for your loved one’s injuries, we will gladly offer to be your trusted advocate and legal representative.

To learn more about how we can help you, contact us at


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