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Volume 14, Number 1
January/February 1998

Schools Should Be Safe, But Are They?

Research tells us a lot about common school injuries, but schools lack systems for preventing them


On June 18, 1993, Charles Richey was coaching his son's Little League team in Ross, a small town near Pittsburgh. His attention was diverted by a toppling slide at the adjacent elementary school. Running to the playground, Richey was horrified to find that the slide had landed on his 9-year-old daughter, Jillian. She died of internal bleeding an hour-and-a-half later.

Investigation revealed that the slide's leg supports had rusted through. A teacher had warned the principal and a school board member about a broken support on the slide two months before it fell, but no repairs were made.

Jillian Richey's death was not an isolated incident. Every year, children are hospitalized, disabled, and even killed by injuries occurring at school or during school-sponsored activities. Two million children are treated by school nurses, hospitals, or the family physician every year for such injuries; more than 700,000 children require emergency room treatment. Research has taught us much about the most common school injuries. However, most school districts have not taken advantage of this research in ways that could significantly reduce the number of injuries in schools.

This is an excerpt from the Harvard Education Letter. Subscribers can click here to continue reading this article.