Lilydale landslide tragic, but blame not warranted

/ 6 June 2013 / eunice

Alana K. Bassin, Star Tribune Commentary, June 6, 2013 – I am the mother of one of the Peter Hobart Elementary School students who was on a fourth-grade field trip May 22 when a landslide at Lilydale Regional Park led to the death of two students.

After watching some media sources question the judgment of school and district officials, suggesting that they are to be faulted for the accident, I feel compelled to comment.

Any parent, anywhere, understands that what was experienced by the families of those two fourth-grade classes is their worst nightmare. For the families whose children were injured or died, the pain is unthinkable.

But from an insider — one of the families who received the call immediately after the landslide notifying us that there had been a serious accident — I can only tell you how thankful I am for the professional, tireless and heartfelt efforts from the principal, teachers and community at Peter Hobart and the St. Louis Park district.

While nothing is ever perfect in crisis management, the school contacted us immediately, informed us that our daughter was safe and invited us to the school to wait for the bus to return. While parents waited in anguish, the teachers and chaperones were taking heroic measures at the park. Both lead teachers and at least one of the chaperones were on their knees digging one of the boys out with their bare hands. They saved that child’s life.

Other chaperones, desperately trying to maintain their composure, took charge of reassuring and keeping safe the 40-some remaining children as rescue efforts ensued.

When the children did return, teachers formed a human shield as the kids emptied off the bus to protect them from the press. The next day, despite the fact that none of the school employees likely slept a wink, staff members greeted our children with open arms and had counselors ready to help. The same lead teacher who was part of the rescue efforts on Wednesday greeted my daughter with an enormous hug on Thursday.

Parents wept in the hallways, but teachers and staff kept their tears hidden as best they could, remained engaged with the children and continued to do their jobs with excellence.

Having attended the funeral of one of the deceased boys (whose mother, family and friends from the Masjid An-Nur Mosque were the most loving and gracious hosts imaginable given the circumstances), I am well aware that not all of the kids came home. Our hearts ache over what happened.

But for the media or anyone else to blame the school or staff is not only misguided, but undermines the praise they actually deserve.

My understanding is that Lilydale Park issues more than 400 permits per year. Many, if not most, schools in the metropolitan area bring field trips to the park to do fossil hunting. Kids were there the prior day, the prior week, the prior year and the prior decade. If anyone had any reason to believe that a landslide was likely to happen (undoubtedly starting with the park itself), no one would have let children enter.

Accidents happen, and this appears to be nothing but a tragic accident. It is understandable to be angry that two innocent lives were lost and others were injured, but it is unfair to direct this emotion at the teachers, principal, school or district. I, for one, am very thankful for all of them.


Alana K. Bassin is the mother of four and co-managing partner at Bowman and Brooke LLP, a product liability defense law firm.