A School Office So Rule-Bound It Refuses to Think

Hang rratyteann
onto your goat. This story will totally get yours. It got mine.

Dear Free-Range Kids: Every Friday, I pick my niece up from school. She is in 1st grade.

Last Friday I was substitute teaching at her school, in her classroom no less. The fire alarm went off.  Smoke from a building project was venting into the school building.  It was determined that the fumes were negatively impacting the learning environment and school was dismissed early.

I am on my niece’s emergency contact list. I am on her list of people allowed to pick her up.  I texted Sister in Law at work and told her not to worry about evacuation.  I would  bring niece home, as I do every Friday.

Until I went to sign her out (evacuation is considered early release and requires sign out) and I was refused — by my coworkers and friends who have known me a decade.  I was informed that they could not release my niece to me, despite her mother’s written consent in the form of emergency contact release, because they hadn’t spoken to her mother. 

What is the point of an emergency contact if it isn’t “someone to call when you can’t reach the parent/guardian”? What if the emergency were that her parents were in a serious car accident?

This is an extension of the bizarre cell phone culture that we live in that assumes all people are reachable at all times.  As noted above [in the post about requiring a chaperon to wait at the bus stop every afternoon], many people are not always reachable at their place of work, sometimes cell phone batteries die, sometimes cell phone coverage is spotty. It turned into a major hassle trying to reach sister in law at her new job,  where she doesn’t carry her phone.

 I wasn’t deciding if my niece would have an appendectomy,  I was picking her up from school.

All I can do here is make a plea: If you have a brain and a heart, use them at all times. Do not defer to a policy, out of some misguided belief that rigidity and stupidity trump compassion and common sense. 

And if you want to read a whole book about that topic, check out The Rule of Nobody, by Philip Howard. It is a fantastic argument in favor of us exercising our authority, instead of shrugging, “I didn’t realize I could do that.”

Who is willing to take responsibility for an "unauthorized" sign out?

Who is willing to take responsibility for an “unauthorized” sign-out?


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65 Responses to A School Office So Rule-Bound It Refuses to Think

  1. Rhode Island Mom November 19, 2014 at 11:23 am #

    That is a new level of ridiculous. What is the point of having a pick-up list or emergency contact list then?

  2. Gina November 19, 2014 at 11:24 am #

    She is on the list. End of story.

  3. Warren November 19, 2014 at 11:30 am #

    Years ago when the bus lines went on strike, you had to pick up your kids. 4 different lines for 4 different ranges in alphabet. My daughter, and her friend were in two different ranges. The first time they told me that after signing for one, I had to go to the end of the other line to get the other, both sets of parents told the kids, they would be walking the mile to school, and informed the school of it. The school argued that they were bus students and cannot walk. They were informed they were not bus students, they were our children, and the school could suck it up.

    They walked.

  4. Swain November 19, 2014 at 11:49 am #

    At that point you take the child and walk out the goddamn door.

  5. MichaelF November 19, 2014 at 11:51 am #

    On emergency list – check
    On pickup list – check
    School Being Completely unresponsive and stubborn – priceless

  6. Ann in L.A. November 19, 2014 at 12:12 pm #

    When our kid broke his ankle at school (a very minor break requiring only 2 weeks in a walking cast) the school called only one of our contact numbers–to a cell phone that rarely gets answered during the day. They didn’t try any of the other 4 numbers we had given them.

    They continued to have him go through his day, including walking up the stairs to the science room. Eventually, when he was laying in the hallway shivering from the pain and shock, you’d think they would bother to call a different contact number, but they never did.

    When the day finally ended and he didn’t come out to the pick up line, instead of immediately telling me he needed me to come in and get him, the people outside–which included the vice principal–were clueless. Finally, after waiting for about ten minutes, they told me I should go in and get him. I had to carry him out.

    Brainless people.

  7. Kathy of the HavinsNest November 19, 2014 at 12:13 pm #

    Like zero tolerance this is zero thinking.

    I work in a high school office. We once had a student who refused to leave the building with an emergency contact – even though mom had called me to allow her to leave – because she, meaning the teenager, hadn’t been told in advance that someone besides mom was picking up.

    My comment to her? “Next time your grandmother has a heart attack and has to be ambulanced to the hospital, I’ll remind your mom to let you know in advance so you won’t be surprised.”


  8. M November 19, 2014 at 12:45 pm #

    That is pathetic.

  9. Vicky November 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm #

    I agree with Swain! We can not continue to relinquish authority of our children/grandchildren. You simply go get your child and leave. What are they going to do, have you arrested for kidnapping your own child? I have to say that if can home school your children, home school them. This is gone past the point of being ludicrous, it has now become scary. Time to flip the school boards a get people in there with some common sense and who don’t have an agenda!

  10. Puzzled November 19, 2014 at 12:59 pm #

    “That’s interesting. We’re leaving now. Feel free to call the police and explain that you allow kidnappers to substitute teach.”

  11. lollipoplover November 19, 2014 at 1:06 pm #

    Yes, these boots were made for walking.
    Tell them with all due respect, you do not have time for bureaucracy BS and that you will be leaving NOW.
    And then humm the “If I only had a brain” chorus from the Wizard of Oz as you walk out the door.

  12. Andrea November 19, 2014 at 1:16 pm #

    @ Kathy of the HavinsNest

    Hold up. There is an emergency pick up list for HIGH SCHOOL??

    When I was in high school we just walked out the door when school was out and went home however felt like (got a ride from a friend in upper class, hopped on the bus, stuck around and hung out).

    This can’t be true. Emergency pick up for high school? wtf.

  13. E November 19, 2014 at 1:31 pm #

    Didn’t it say 1st grade?

    Anyway — this has to be a gross over-reaction or mistake from the front office and can’t be that this is actual policy. It’s insanity.

  14. Emily Morris November 19, 2014 at 1:36 pm #

    Why bother having an emergency pick-up/contact list if I have to be notified every time they want to use it? Parents create the darn things BECAUSE they might be unreachable. I promise, I trust the people I put on the list.

    I remember a few years’ back picking up my kid brothers from elementary school. I was a college student and had attended that same elementary school. The response? “Hey, Emily! How are things? We will call down to the classrooms and have them right on up to you!” I didn’t even have to sign them out. Twas beautiful.

    I also recall WALKING home (because my parents picked a house within a few blocks of elementary, jr. high, and high school) when sick if the school deemed me well enough to handle walking home. They called my mom and said “She’s wwalking home” and that was that.

  15. StandardDeviation November 19, 2014 at 1:49 pm #

    Yes Vicki, that is exactly what they will do. They will call the police and you will be prosecuted for kidnapping. They have done it before.

    According to the state, your job is to shut up an comply.

  16. Michael Kitchen November 19, 2014 at 2:08 pm #

    Sounds like this:

    Argument Clinic – Monty Python http://youtu.be/kQFKtI6gn9Y

  17. SOA November 19, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

    agree 100%. As long as she was on the emergency contact and approved sign out list, they should have given her to you to take home.

    I do not like the way our society is going either where people expect everyone to be reachable 100% of the time. No. I don’t have texting. I don’t have a smart phone. I only have an old phone that makes calls and I don’t always answer it or carry it everywhere with me. Deal with it. I don’t always answer the home phone either.

  18. gap.runner November 19, 2014 at 2:15 pm #

    This is beyond insane! It makes me glad that I am in Germany, where helicopter parenting is viewed as crazy. The whole idea of elementary or secondary students not being allowed to leave school except with a designated person is a foreign concept to me.

    In Germany once kids are in first grade, they are free to go home on their own. There are no sign-outs or informing the teacher that someone else is picking up your child. Many of the kids walk, cycle, or ride their scooters home on their own. Some parents pick up their primary school kids (grades 1 to 4), but there are no sign outs. The parents simply stand outside the school and wait for their kids to come out. If I recall correctly, when my son was in primary school I had to designate an emergency contact if neither my husband nor I could be reached and my son got sick or severely injured during school. That person could be a friend or a relative. When my son started secondary school, I did not have to designate an emergency contact on his paperwork.

  19. BL November 19, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

    “I was informed that they could not release my niece to me”

    That’s a lie.

    The proper phrase is “would not”, not “could not”.

  20. Jen C. November 19, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

    I would consider myself to be a Free Range parent, but I work at an elementary school and agree with the way they handled things in this situation. You say that you texted you sister-in-law, so since she WAS able to be contacted. she should have called the school and let them know you would be taking her home. Parents are constantly freaking out and blaming everything on the school. If some kid decides to walk home instead of getting on the bus like they are supposed to…..somehow it’s the school’s fault. If a kid gets in a friends car for a ride home instead of walking…..somehow it’s the school’s fault. Just because you are on the emergency list, doesn’t mean you can take a child without permission. What if you took your niece, but mom didn’t get the text? Then mom shows up and wants to know where her kid is. Things like this happen all the time. Car accidents are very rare.

  21. Papilio November 19, 2014 at 2:31 pm #

    There’s “Computer says no” and then, miraculously even worse, there is “School office/board says no”…

    @Ann in LA: What?!!! Now THAT is child abuse.

  22. Papilio November 19, 2014 at 2:34 pm #

    @Jen: ” You say that you texted you sister-in-law, so since she WAS able to be contacted. she should have called the school”

    Geez Jen – I just asked you several times why you think receiving a text on a phone that’s turned off is the same thing as reading it and you STILL haven’t answered me!

  23. railmeat November 19, 2014 at 2:35 pm #

    Jen writes: “Car accidents are very rare”

    . . . are you completely cut off from reality? Car accidents – lets call them car ‘wrecks’ since they are rarely accidental, are more common by about a thousand fold than child abductions. All these stupid release rules are not designed to keep kids safe, but rather to keep folks like you, evidently, from having to exercise authority when confronted with an irrational parent.

  24. Chris November 19, 2014 at 2:40 pm #

    “What if you took your niece, but mom didn’t get the text? Then mom shows up and wants to know where her kid is.”
    Surely in that case you just tell mum that her sister has taken the kid home and texted her, mum says, “Oh, right, my phone battery died, guess I’ll catch up with them at home.” I really don’t see the big deal?

  25. Laurambp November 19, 2014 at 3:07 pm #

    Jen C., I love how you assumed that the sister-in-law received the text right away. I often text people when I know they can’t respond for a while (like when they are at work) because it’s convenient for me to do so. That’s the beauty of texting – you don’t have to answer right away or even at all.

  26. Sharon November 19, 2014 at 3:12 pm #

    I can’t imagine that this was the only issue the office staff was dealing with that at the moment. They should have delighted that the Aunt was on the contact list and able, ready, and willing to take her niece home early.

    Did your niece’s mom need to leave work early and pick up her child?

  27. Uly November 19, 2014 at 3:51 pm #

    A few sentences would have cured this, and fast.

    “Oh, I understand. Well, bye honey! I’ll see you tonight at dinner! I guess your principal will be dropping you at home when your mom gets off of work at six.”

  28. Uly November 19, 2014 at 3:54 pm #

    Things like this happen all the time. Car accidents are very rare.

    Car accidents are one of the top three causes of death for all Americans. How rare can they possibly be?

  29. SOA November 19, 2014 at 3:56 pm #

    See that is that attitude of someone must keep their phone glued to their hands and immediately respond and check every call, text, message, etc.

    No. She may have been sent a text but she could have had her phone off or not with her or not bothered to pull it out and check the actual text if the phone was on silent.

    So she had no way of knowing there was any kind of issue. So the school should use common sense and let her go home instead with someone that is on her approved list of dismissal. No big deal.

    I am sure she would get the text once she got off work and was on her way to pick up her daughter and realize she was with her aunt because Aunt could text her that I have her.

    I can bring friends home with us, but the parent has to let the school know which is fine. It was the same when I was in school. My BFF got off at my bus stop every Friday so the bus driver stopped even asking for the note.

    I do approve of dismissal lists. I have one and it is very clear that only these people are approved and anyone else is not unless I tell them otherwise. We have our own reasons for that. But yeah they can release my kids to the people on that list anytime and I won’t care.

  30. Sharon November 19, 2014 at 3:57 pm #

    The principal was not (I assume) on the emergency contact list. How could he or she break the school’s ironclad rule?

  31. pentamom November 19, 2014 at 4:10 pm #

    “Then mom shows up and wants to know where her kid is. ”

    And? AND??? The tectonic plates shift and the sky falls? Nuclear holocaust? People dying in the streets?

    You tell the mom that someone she’d previously authorized to be able to pick up her kid, picked up the kid, and she calls them? NOT THAT!!!!!!!

  32. Donald November 19, 2014 at 4:19 pm #

    I’m making a blog about stuff exactly like this. This will fit well with my bureaucracy pages


    and another page about bureaucracy


    I also explain about worst first thinking


  33. Stephanie November 19, 2014 at 4:23 pm #

    Ann in L.A., you’re making me appreciate the effort my kids’ school went through for my neighbor’s daughter on a much more minor issue. Her parents forgot that it was a minimum day once when she was in kindergarten, and were off having lunch when school got out. School called every one of the listed emergency numbers, but all of those were out too. They looked at the records, realized I was a neighbor and called to ask me if I had any further contact info for her parents. I didn’t, and since I wasn’t on the card I couldn’t do the pickup, but I loved that they asked if I had any way to help things.

    The parents added me to the list the very next school day, at my request. I pointed out to them that I work at home, and am usually available for things like that, and our kids play together. They’re on my list too, of course.

  34. Ben November 19, 2014 at 4:31 pm #

    I disagree with Lenore when she said: “All I can do here is make a plea: If you have a brain and a heart, use them at all times. Do not defer to a policy,”

    Definitely use your brain and heart, but the policy was on your side. They should have used it as intended. To release your niece to you so you could both go home.

    If the parent needs to be contacted on every occasion, there’s no point in having emergency contact details in the first place.

  35. Donald November 19, 2014 at 4:32 pm #

    oops it posted before I was finished.

    I don’t immediately attack bureaucracy. (that comes later) because I don’t immediately attack, some might thing I’m defending it and never get to the attacking part

  36. Warren November 19, 2014 at 4:35 pm #

    As insane as it is, going against the school could very well cost this lady her employment with them. Hard spot.

    Had it been a non employee, well then just take the kid, and tell the admin. to shove their rule.

  37. Montreal Dad November 19, 2014 at 4:53 pm #

    This sounds less like a stupid rule and more like a stupid person, though…

  38. lollipoplover November 19, 2014 at 5:05 pm #

    My oldest daughter has two classmates who have parents going through cancer treatment. One of them is a single mom. I can’t imagine trying to work and go through chemo and deal with school dismissal madness.
    We’ve been able to get the one classmate dismissed with my daughter as a walker when the mom was too sick to pick her up (several times). It is actually easier to have the kids declared independent walkers and/or bikers and leave on their own than to involve me in picking up any of these kids.

  39. Donald November 19, 2014 at 5:07 pm #

    We have evolved (regressed?) into a world of compliance to procedures.

    In a previous letter, I compared a bureaucracy to that of Micky Mouse and The Sorcerers Apprentice. The magic brooms kept filling the already full washtub. They wouldn’t stop doing this even though the room was flooded and Micky was trying to keep from drowning!

    I’d like to revise that story.

    The department of sanitation (run by CEO Micky) was tasked with the supply of water. CEO Micky diversified the department by restructuring a new branch. The department of water transfer headed by Robert Broome was established.

    The department of Water Transfer streamlined supply and increased efficiency by 500%! However when the sanitizing facility was filled to capacity, Robert Broome was asked to dissolve his department. This would mean that Mr Broome would lose his company car, dental benefits, and free gym membership! He would also have to find another type of employment! This caused an interdepartmental revolution!

    After much kerfuffle, Robert Broome was transferred to the child safety department where he continued to ‘overkill’, perform tasks in overabundance, and resemble a runaway freight train

  40. Vanessa November 19, 2014 at 5:47 pm #

    @Andrea my daughter’s high school has an emergency contact list, but I don’t think they care much who picks her up. Depending on who’s manning the nurse’s office when she’s sick, they either send her out to the curb to wait for me, or I walk inside and “pick her up,” but it’s just me coming to the door and saying “OK, let’s go” – no one asks to see my I.D. or check me against a list of authorized picker-uppers. Which makes sense considering that she’s 16 and could theoretically drive herself home.

  41. Dan November 19, 2014 at 5:50 pm #

    Never understood the whole thing about having a list of people authorised to collect,

    we normally have a list of emergency contacts here in the UK and if school dismisses early then they will usially phone them in order until one gets a response
    the one time my school did this when i was there the conversation went somthing like….
    – we are finishing early today due to the heating having broken down, do you want to come and pick up dan or will he be making his own way home? oh ok we will tell him to go to his grandparents house and you will pick him up after work,
    thanks bye.

  42. Donald November 19, 2014 at 6:18 pm #

    I think this is really interesting. Try to look past the idiocy of it and the outrage that you feel. (it’s not easy)

    Focus more on how the system has become as mechanical as a mousetrap. It can’t be reasoned or bargained with. Logic no longer applies. These written in stone rules must be followed without question or else we will starve you of funding. (for the education system for the entire state) The decision makers are so distant from it that they don’t feel the impracticality of it. However they are in the same boat. (sort of) While the teachers get the ‘follow procedure without question or we fire you’, they get the ‘keep adding more procedures (regardless how illogical) or else we will fire you’.

    Only a mechanical device can create this kind of behavior. The bureaucratic system is like a plague of locus. Which individual locus do you hold responsible for the plague? Instead of trying to find an individual to blame, look instead at the system that has taken on a life form of its own. Each employee, administrator, and bureaucrat has becomes a slave to this system.

  43. Donald November 19, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    Forgive me as I try to look though the eyes of the person that made this rule.

    If we let her lose early and her mother does not know about it, what if she gets stoned or pregnant during her unsupervised time? Heads will role. The news LOVES stories like this because the public LOVES to buy them.

    I consider News to be like tobacco companies. Both intentionally addict their customers. However, WE have to take some responsibility for being drama junkies.

  44. Gina November 19, 2014 at 6:29 pm #

    @Swain…absolutely agree.

    My 5 kids went through the same elementary school…staff knew me by sight and by name. When my last one was there, so was my niece. I was on every contact sheet for her (my sister was working full time) including afterschool programs, etc. Had anyone tried to stop me from taking her, I would have walked right out the door with both the kids and let them call the cops. When I got stopped by the cops, I would have locked all the doors and called my lawyer who was my sister and my niece’s mom….Now I would have liked to have seen THAT!

  45. Gina November 19, 2014 at 6:30 pm #

    Also, if anyone tried to stop my emergency contact people from removing my kids, I would have sued for custodial interference.

  46. CrazyCatLady November 19, 2014 at 7:14 pm #

    At our school district they use a computer system called “Power School” to inform the parents of student grades.

    This fall my daughter who had been doing charter type homeschooling enrolled in a magnet science high school. She missed the bus one day, and called home, but I had already left for another thing. Bad her…she hadn’t remembered the cell phone number and told the secretary that it was fine for her to call the one on file. Which ended up being from 6 years ago, the cell numbers we had from another state and hadn’t been updated despite me sending in forms with updated numbers EVERY SINGLE YEAR!

    Fortunately for my daughter…a former teacher from the previous school came to pick up her daughter and ended up taking mine home too….no questions, no worries about her being an emergency contact person or not. As it is high school, they don’t even care WHO picks them up…the let the kids sign themselves out for doctor appointments and such.

    I feel very lucky. Other than the fact that I had given them the info and they never updated it. But…even that…not a big deal. Eventually I would have realized she was not home and gone to the library where she hangs out after school. (Next door to the school.)

  47. Donna November 19, 2014 at 9:20 pm #

    Okay, the need to sign out a child for an early school closing – surprising or not – is bizarre. This wasn’t an early release of a specific child. The entire school closed. Every child in the school had to be signed out? Do they do this for early closures for snow too? Parent-teacher conferences? Seems like a big headache just to release the kids at noon instead of 2:30.

    In fact, the whole thing seems odd. There is no possible way that they could have actually reached all the parents in the school to come get their kids. What did they do with the kids

  48. Donna November 19, 2014 at 9:30 pm #

    Accidentally hit send …

    What did they do with the kids whose parents couldn’t be reached? Or those whose parents couldn’t pick them up? The school was evacuated so they couldn’t stay there. You’d think the school would just be happy to have someone – anyone – come pick up the kid rather than have another one they need to find something to do with until mom can be reached.

    And since everyone is signing out (still bizarre), it isn’t like they can’t just look up the person who picked up the child should mom come in looking for the child (can’t assume that mom got the text from sister either). There is certainly nobody on my emergency contact list that I would be upset to find out my child went home with. Kinda defeats the purpose of putting them on an emergency contact list. I might have a word or two with my sister for presuming that I would be okay with her just picking my kid up, but I wouldn’t be mad at the school.

  49. Dave B November 20, 2014 at 4:24 am #

    So the school got evacuated because of the possibility of toxic fumes from a nearby fire entering the school/class rooms.

    Seems perfectly logical to keep the kids at school to inhale some smoke till the chosen/approved guardian of the day arrives.
    “Little Timmy had to catch some lungfulls of smoke because otherwise i would have lost points on my game of ‘Which approved contact shall be allowed to take Timmy today’ as i had my money on mommy and not auntie.
    Sorry, not sorry”

  50. Heather November 20, 2014 at 4:36 am #

    So let me get this straight: If aunt waited until the end of the working day, she’d have been collecting her niece anyway. Nobody needs to worry about mom arriving to fetch her child: mum expects to get home and find aunt and child there already (or collect from aunt’s house).

    So all that was different this day was that school was out early because the classrooms were unusable.

    Was the procedure with all the kids to call their parents, agree who would collect the kids and then contact the person picking up and wait for them to get there? Wow, it must have taken the rest of the school day to get the kids sorted and home. Where did they take the kids in the meantime? Surely not the smoke-filled classrooms?

    Parent probably wants to check in with the school how many of the contact nos they would have called if her child had been sick and needed to go home. Just the first one, or down the list? Because mom was clearly not answering the phone.

    I’d expect that a school to call the parents in whichever order the parents designated, and then any other numbers they had for the parents, and then the other contacts on the emergency contact list. Eventually they would get to the aunt.


  51. fishydude November 20, 2014 at 8:13 am #

    You can’t fix stupid.
    This case makes just as much sense as “zero tolerance” policies.

  52. TM November 20, 2014 at 1:03 pm #

    @ Jen C

    You say that you texted you sister-in-law, so since she WAS able to be contacted. she should have called the school and let them know you would be taking her home.

    What if you took your niece, but mom didn’t get the text? Then mom shows up and wants to know where her kid is.

    I think there’s a disconnect in your line of thinking.

  53. Buffy November 20, 2014 at 1:09 pm #

    Setting aside the fact that some people anticipate all manner of family drama resulting from school evacuation and emergency contacts (geez, do you really think people don’t SPEAK to each other any more, after the fact?), the OP said that she ALWAYS picks her niece up on Fridays. This was a Friday. So the mom showing up would never happen. Because the OP picks her up on Fridays.

  54. Donna November 20, 2014 at 1:30 pm #

    @Jen C –

    I agree that there is the possibility that mom would show up to get the kid after she already left with Merrick. Just because I pick someone up at 2:30 every Friday doesn’t mean that I am available at the drop of the hat to pick her up at 12. Mom may not have known where aunt was teaching that day and mistakenly believed that SHE needed to make arrangements.

    That said, the school personnel KNOW the aunt personally, have for 10 years. It would take 5 seconds to tell mom “Merrick took Susie with her since she was subbing here today and we couldn’t reach you.” Mom being annoyed that she didn’t check her text messages before she headed out is reasonable. Getting upset at the school for allowing the child to go with an emergency contact is not.

  55. Buffy November 20, 2014 at 4:39 pm #

    If Mom didn’t check her messages, how would she know to go to the school early, on a day she wouldn’t normally go?

    You guys all seem to be making excuses for the school with the “what if” scenarios. The bottom line is that an emergency contact list should be all the school needs to release a child in an emergency. If the aunt was approved to pick up the child every Friday and approved to be contacted in an emergency, it’s a no-brainer that she was approved to pick her up that day too.

  56. Donna November 20, 2014 at 9:49 pm #

    I didn’t make any excuses for the school. If you read my post, I clearly stated that the fact that a miscommunication may happen and the mother may come after Merrick took the child is irrelevant since they know exactly where the child went.

    “If Mom didn’t check her messages, how would she know to go to the school early, on a day she wouldn’t normally go?”

    You’ve never discovered a voicemail when the phone never rang or a text when the phone never binged? Never been out of earshot when the phone rings or a text comes in? If not you have better cell service than me and are way too attached to your phone. These things happen to me regularly and, not being a obsessive phone checker, I often don’t find them for hours – generally not until a second voicemail or text comes in that I do know about. It would not be unusual for me to notice that I have a voicemail and check it, but never notice that I also have a text that I didn’t hear come in or vice versa.

    The closest I can get to making an excuse for the school is to say: I would ALWAYS prefer that the school try all my contact numbers first before giving my child to an emergency contact so I don’t find it absurd at all that they have a rule to at least try to speak to the parent before they release the child to anyone else. This is purely a convenience issue. If I can go get my kid from school myself, I would prefer that over having to go get her from my emergency contact’s home.

    If the school had simply made a quick attempt to call mom and then sent aunt and kid on the way, it would be cool. I would probably roll my eyes, but whatever. But the insistence in actually TALKING to the mother doesn’t even make sense and seems to defeat the purpose of an emergency contact list. So this isn’t even about sticking to a rule. It is about having a completely stupid rule.

  57. Buffy November 21, 2014 at 7:35 am #

    Of course I’ve had all those things happen with my phone, and I’m not attached to it. But you said “Mom being annoyed that she didn’t check her text messages before she headed out is reasonable.”

    If Mom didn’t check her text messages before she headed out, as you are positing, she wouldn’t not have known to go to the school. The only way she would know there is a problem at the school is by checking texts or listening to voice mails. If she didn’t do those things, it was a normal Friday for her and she would not have gone to the school or picked up her child.

  58. Donna November 21, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    Ummm, even outside the possibility that she checked her voicemail and not her texts, the plainly obvious response of the school called her WORK NUMBER and that is the message she received clearly escaped you. People do actually still communicate in ways other than the cellphone. Heck, back when I had an office phone and receptionist, my OFFICE NUMBER was my only school contact. I didn’t give the school my cell number because I didn’t want them to call it. I often can’t check my cellphone for hours while at work and the receptionist always knew where I was and would send someone to give me a message if there was an emergency (it happened a few times).

  59. Donna November 21, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    And, yes, twice in my child’s life, two people have been en route to pick up my sick child from school. We sorted it out before both showed up at the school, but it is possible that we won’t some other time.

  60. Amy November 21, 2014 at 9:25 am #

    At that point I might consider calling the police and telling them that the school is criminally confining the child. You can’t take the child, because then the school might call the police and have you arrested for kidnapping, as a previous commenter said. But if you have the parents’ permission to take the child, and if the school refuses to hand the child over, they’re on the wrong side of the law.

    On the other hand, you’re risking your job and your relationship with your co-workers if you do that. Talk about being damned if you do, damned if you don’t. So sorry this happened. 🙁

  61. LRH November 22, 2014 at 1:42 am #

    The main point of this article is that the relative should’ve been able to pick up her relative’s child without the need to reach the mother on the spot. Yes, she should have, and the way this handled was totally silly.

    However, I am going to address the “cell phone” culture & the expectation of instant availability. To an extent, I agree with that expectation, and think people, especially ones with children in school, should pretty much be readily available, or at least not have it be to where they go the entire day without someone being able to reach them.

    Really, this is the year 2014. Expectations have changed from the past, as well they should have. I can tell you that I would refuse to work at a job where the boss expected me to leave my phone at home all day. What, are you nuts? Who am I, Laura Ingallis? What else, should I be burning candles and using an outhouse? Do you bosses not realize what century this is?

    As long as I am productive at work, and I am (I do work), I don’t see the big deal in having a phone on you. Hello, most people have cell phones in this day and age (a phrase I hate, but in this I think it applies), and use them for all sorts of things, often-times productive things. (I’ve been known to use mine to look up close-by places for customers who are asking for help with directions, which sounds like a nice thing to do to me.) I work in rotating shifts and I use my phone to log my shifts because I lose scraps of paper just like that.

    Yes, unless you’re working in a job such as, say, being the lawyer in a courtroom or air traffic control, yes, you should be reachable pretty much at all times, especially where it regards something that may be going on with your child at school of a serious nature. You shouldn’t be expected to be left in the dark all day long just because you’re at work.

    In my case, I may only check it every 2 hours or so and I do turn it on silent (using an app that does so for a timed cycle and then automatically turns the sounds back on later), but I hardly go the entire shift without looking at it either. I don’t even go to the bathroom, even at home, without my phone on me at all times. I think it’s a totally reasonable expectation–and no, it doesn’t mean I’m on it all the time, I may at times go hours and not look at it. But if you, the school, need to reach me, most times you will.

    And yes, as for dead batteries, I keep “power bank” batteries on me so I can charge my phone even if I’m not near an outlet, often-times the result will be my phone will have 70% of its battery charge even up to the point I’m going to bed and now am charging it.

    Come on now, being out of touch is not something to be proud of in the year 2014, unless you’re in court lawyering a case or directing traffic at an intersection etc–especially when you have kids in school. You have kids in school–yes, within limits, you should be reachable quickly. This isn’t the 1980s. Just because it was okay back then doesn’t mean we should keep doing it that way now. I mean, what else, are we going to start using horse and buggies and abandon refrigerators for icehouses? No, I think we should be reachable in situations like these, although (again) the school’s response here was totally ridiculous, I do agree fully.

  62. Jen C. November 22, 2014 at 7:06 am #

    Just to clarify…..I didn’t mean that car accidents in general are rare, but in 8 years working at elementary schools I have never seen a child not picked up because the parent was in a car accident.

    Also, to people who say “What’s the big deal if the mom shows up and the kids aren’t there? It’s not the end of the world.” You truly can’t understand how parents completely f-r-e-a-k o-u-t on school staff if the kids aren’t there.

    Emergency contacts are used if the parents can’t be reached. The original story never says if the mom was reached or not. Just because something is a “hassle”, doesn’t make it an emergency.

    I would love to hear from some people who actually work at an elementary school and deal with parents on a daily basis.

  63. SOA November 22, 2014 at 5:53 pm #

    LRH: that is why we put down other emergency contacts on the list. So that if the parents cannot be reached they can call someone else on the list. If I can’t be reached on my home phone first, then call my cell, then call DH’s work number, then call my mother’s cell. That is the order I expect them to use. I am sure with all those numbers someone will be reachable.

    My husband, my mother, nor I need to always be reachable because they have three of us to call and at any given point probably at least one of us is reachable.

  64. LRH November 23, 2014 at 3:32 am #

    SOA If it’s as you say it is (someone’s always reachable), that’s certainly fine. What is NOT fine is when someone needs to be reached and they can’t because they, for whatever bizarre reason, are too casual with respect to always having their phone on them if they’re in a position such as this (kids in school & they’re a principal contact etc).

    A lot of people anymore seem to almost take pride in being unreachable by phone, and I think it’s silly. I certainly can understand things such as that you’re a doctor in the middle of brain surgery or an air traffic controller, etc. I also understand if you work out or do things like swim, certainly no reasonable person thinks you ought to be available at such times. Heck I’m known to go cycling and you can’t figure on reaching me except when I periodically pull over to rest and I check to see if I missed anything. I have no interest in missing out on these things because of some notion of always being available on the phone.

    However, I think people anymore seem to take it too far, and almost seem proud and happy at the prospect of even their good friends or spouse not being able to get a hold of them, even when it’s not during such times. I find it altogether silly and, frankly, I’d go so far as to say you don’t have that right if you have children in school, especially if you don’t have backup persons. (I also think you have no right to do that to your spouse, but that’s another topic for another day.)


  65. Jennifer December 1, 2014 at 10:06 pm #

    I can do one better. My kid’s school refused to let me pick up my own kid on an early release half day (bring your grandparent) because I had neglected to send in a letter 72 hours in advance stating that I would be taking her home. The request had been stated that if a grandparent would be taking the child home, please let the school know, even if they were emergency contacts since 600+ children were involved. Since my child’s grandparents live hours away and couldn’t pop in for an hour on a random Wednesday, I went to be her “person”. I asked what they planned to do with my KINDERGARTEN child if I didn’t take her home and then marched out the door without waiting for the answer. I guess the police may still be looking for me…