Yyyyyyup! The American public school system continues to impress. As they used to say, “Get a load of this!“
In 2012 Gonja Wolf was an art teacher at Patrick Henry High School in the San Diego Unified School District. She was monitoring a 25-minute study hall. Administrators at the school had told teachers that frequent bathroom breaks for students would undermine the study hall’s purpose, which was uninterrupted study. They also told teachers to use their common sense. Unfortunately, Ms. Wolf had no common sense.
When a young woman in the class, a freshman, asked to go to the restroom, Wolf ordered her to urinate in a bucket in an adjacent supply room rather than use the bathroom during class. The bucket was there because Wolf, a think-ahead type of person, purchased the bucket, she said, to serve as a toilet in case of a security lockdown, and had even used the bucket for emergency peeing herself. (I should have put this story in the “I Can’t Believe I’m Writing This” file.) She said she misunderstood the school’s instructions about bathroom breaks, but thought it was a good idea. To have students pee in a bucket. She actually said this under oath.
Yes, sadly, Gonja Wolf is an idiot.
Other students heard Wolf order the girl to pee in the bucket, and henceforth the student was mercilessly teased by classmates, who presumably called her Bucket Girl” or “Pail Face,” or something. The incident got a great deal of local media attention, further humiliating her so much that she changed schools twice, attempted suicide and now, four years later (she’s now 19) still suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. She finally earned her high school diploma from a charter school.
Her family sued the Patrick Henry High, which rejected her offer to settle for $25,000. Big mistake. A jury last week awarded her $1.25 million in damages.
Some further observations on a Kaboom!-worthy story (for some reason my head didn’t explode, perhaps because we just had a ridiculous public school art teacher episode, and my expectations were lowered):
- I am constantly amazed that teachers this foolish are hired by public schools. Students are at risk of physical and cognitive damage when adult supervisors are so far below the rudimentary level of competence that they think, “Hey I’ve got a great idea! I’ll have students piss in a bucket! I’ll even use the bucket myself!”
- You will be pleased to know that the art teacher was placed on leave, and did not return to the school. You will not be pleased to know that I cannot certify that she isn’t teaching someplace else, doing god knows what to her students.
- Needless to say, this was not a very resilient young woman. That is an extreme reaction to a single embarrassing incident in high school. However, the law or torts says that you take your victim as you find her. If she is especially vulnerable to the tort you inflict on her, you are deemed responsible and liable for all the damage directly traceable to the injury.
- The school got incompetent legal advice when it turned down that $25,000 settlement demand. That was reasonable; I’d call it a bargain.
- The final damages may be considerably less by the time the case is appealed, but maybe not. The more I think about this case, the more reasonable the verdict seems.
Pointer and Sources: ABA Journal