Category Student/Enrollment Issues
Title Supervision: How Much Is Enough
Preview An example of one daycare's typical day turned tragic and the courts ruling on whether or not they were negligent in the matter.

Supervision: How Much Is Enough?

It was a typical day in the church-sponsored childcare center. Children were busy playing and just having fun as the day neared its end. But in a short span of just two minutes, fun turned into tragedy. A child suffered a serious injury that would have lifelong results. Did the center have adequate supervision that day? How much is enough?

On a February day, two-year-old Lily Todd was playing as she did every day at the childcare center. On this day as Lily played, something happened in an instant, and she sustained a significant laceration to her face, from her cheek down to her jaw, a laceration that resulted in pain, suffering, and multiple reconstructive surgeries and which left Lily with a permanent scar. "The exact circumstances under which Lily was injured were unclear, as no adult witnessed the accident that led to Lily's injuries." On that day as the children played, one of the childcare teachers turned to talk to a parent who had come to retrieve her child when the cry went out from Lily. The teacher turned around to see Lily bleeding from the mouth and obviously needing medical attention. The teacher called for help from another childcare teacher, and Lily was rushed to the emergency room. The staff at the hospital determined that Lily's injuries were too severe for them to handle, and the young child was transferred to another hospital and treated there. The injuries Lily sustained included a complete laceration that cut through the muscle of her face and required reconstructive surgery. Additionally, Lily suffered maxillary trauma, which resulted in two of her teeth being loosened from their sockets. The surgeon surgically removed the teeth and fitted Lily with a dental implant.

The mother sued the church, claiming that the childcare center had been negligent in its supervision of Lily. The trial court granted the church's motion for summary judgment on the ground that no reasonable jury could find the church and childcare center to have been negligent. The mother then appealed the case. Was the church negligent or not? You be the judge!

Todd v. Church, 993 So.2d 827 (Miss. 2008)

Supervision: How Much Is Enough?

The Supreme Court of Mississippi was now tasked with the decision of whether the church and childcare center were negligent or the supervision was adequate for the circumstances. Could a reasonable jury have found the church and childcare center negligent?

First of all, there was conflicting testimony about what happened to cause Lily's injury. Lily told her mother that one of the boys in the childcare center had "stomped on her face." The doctor testified that "the alveolar ridge fracture ... was not consistent with an ordinary trip-and-fall injury, but was consistent with a strong blow to the face, or a hard blow to the head with the head secured." On the other hand, the teacher "speculated that Lily had somehow fallen." However, the teacher admitted that she did not see the accident take place.

The court stated,

The parties agree that First Baptist owed a duty to Lily and Todd [Lily's mother]. Therefore, the fact issues of breach and proximate cause to be determined by the jury must be supported by the plaintiff with credible evidence. The record reflects that testimony, when viewed in the light most favorable to Todd, as required by law, could support a jury verdict in favor of Todd. Should the jury find that Ward [one of the childcare teachers] breached her duty when she did not keep the children in sight for two or three minutes, the jury could reasonably find for Todd. "When doubt exists whether there is a fact issue, the non-moving party gets its benefit." Glover v. Jackson State Univ....

A school is not expected to ensure children's safety, but it must exercise the ordinary care of a reasonable person under similar circumstances....

... Ward admitted that she had her back to Lily at the time of the incident and did not see how Lily was injured.... A jury must decide what constitutes proper and adequate supervision for a two-year-old child. Therefore, whether or not Ward met the appropriate standard of care required for a two-year-old child must be determined by a jury....

... In our review of summary judgment, we must assume that Lily's statements and Dr. Gaines's testimony are true. Our law is wellsettled on this point; if there is error at the trial level, it must be resolved in favor of proceeding to a trial to enable the jury to weigh any evidence.... This Court must take as true the evidence presented by Todd that Ward breached her duty when she left the children unsupervised for several minutes, and that such breach was the proximate cause of Lily's injuries.

Therefore, the Supreme Court of Mississippi reversed the decision of the trial court and sent it back for jury trial.

What Can We Learn from This Case?

When it comes to supervision, the more vulnerable the child, the more vigilant the supervision must be. So Christian schools and childcare centers must be vigilant in their supervision of young children! In this case the child was a two-year-old. A parent came in, and the teacher turned her back to the children to talk to the parent. Teachers must be diligent to never take their eyes off the children much less turn their backs. Schools and childcare centers have a significant responsibility of keeping children safe, a responsibility that can be accomplished only through diligent supervision. Schools and childcare centers must have specific guidelines for supervision, remind staff of them regularly, and monitor the application of these guidelines.

Here are some basic principles of supervision from Early Education Director's Manual: A Purposeful Approach to Running an Effective Early Education Center by Debi Lydic, Debbi Keeler, and Leanne Leak (Colorado Springs, CO: ACSI/Purposeful Design Publications, 2007; 100) .

  • Teachers need to be alert to children's movements. Distractions must be minimized (for example, conversations with other staff).
  • Teachers need to be aware of the movements of the entire group. Although conversation with individual children is encouraged, teachers need to look up often, scanning the entire area.
  • Adults need to be physically near the children. (For example, if the majority of the children are playing in the sandbox, staff members should be stationed in the area that is closest to them but that still allows the best view of the entire playground.)
  • Teachers must never put themselves in a position where they are unable to supervise children by sight.

You will also find in this publication a sampling of Early Education Child Supervision Policies.

Notice: These articles are designed to provide accurate and authoritative information in regard to the subject matter covered. They have been provided to member schools with the understanding that ACSI is not engaged in rendering legal, accounting, tax or other professional service. If legal advice or other expert assistance is required, the services of a competent professional person should be sought. Laws vary by jurisdiction and the specific application of laws to particular facts requires the advice of an attorney.

LLU 20.3

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