I’ve written a book about it. I’ve given presentations about it. I’ve made it a focus of my career to teach school transportation professionals how to make a legally defensible decision. With all of that, however, I’m not sure I’ve distilled anyplace just what a legally defensible decision is. Here’s what I don’t mean: some decisions are poor decisions, but because of legal technicalities, or state governmental immunity statutes, or even poor lawyering on the part of the parent’s counsel, the school district will win. In other words you have a legal defense, but not because you did something right.
Instead, I mean a decision you can defend with a straight face because it made sense given all of the information you had at your disposal, or would have had if you’d exercised due diligence. . . . even if it didn’t turn out well. You did the best you could under all the circumstances – because your best is still limited by the fact that you’re only human – but a student was hurt, or worse.
Here’s what a defensible decision looks like:
- You had and used a process for making the decision
- It’s the product of objective reasoning with a basis you can articulate
- You can point to behavior that reasonably demonstrates your concern for the student involved
- It complies with applicable law, regulation and your own policy
- When there isn’t a big fat elephant in the room that betrays the fact that your decision could never work, or is directly contrary to anyone’s common sense, or flies in the face of the law. Basically, it passes the “straight-faced” test: you can convey it with a straight face.
I talk about compliance a lot, but don’t always think about what it means in a practical or personal sense. I actively seek to comply always with my value system. On the other hand, I know I don’t always comply with posted speed limits. I don’t know that I’ve ever thought about being a “victim” of someone else’s duty to comply – that is, until a Southwest flight I took from Kansas City to Chicago last week to work with a major school bus company.
Last Wednesday, President Obama was in my new home town to deliver an 11 am speech. I had a 12:40 flight out of KCI. The Southwest gate agent stressed that we’d be striving for an efficient boarding process; the incoming plane we’d be on was a few minutes late, and passengers would be de-planing and airline staff cleaning the plane as quickly as possible. The urgency was the need to take off before the “VIP traffic” at the airport – it didn’t take much to figure out what that was about – caused the airport to close down to incoming or outbound traffic. Such closure would be for an indeterminate length of time. So, Southwest’s usual standard of on-time departure meant even more than usual to the airline and to the passengers on my completely full flight, many of whom had connections to make at Chicago’s Midway Airport. Read the rest of this entry
I did it again. I said the words “If I can help. . .” without thinking through the implications. This time, I was offering to babysit a neighbor’s children. When I said it two weeks ago to a brand new acquaintance, she emailed me within days to ask if I could take her to a doctor’s appointment (I couldn’t, and I didn’t). I told a fellow member of a social organization to which I belong to “call me if you need anything,” despite the fact that I’m truly booked out through Thanksgiving. My frequent offers to help – well-intended though misguided – are symptomatic of my tendency to overcommit. I genuinely wish I could be “there” for everyone. Maybe it takes guts I’ve not yet developed to refrain from offering more than I can give. Read the rest of this entry
Sometimes a school transportation director or manager who has been to one or more of my presentations pays me the ultimate compliment: “You’ve made a difference for kids.” What more could I ask for? Well, the “more” I seek is a sense that the same problems don’t constantly recur.
I’m a story teller, and the stories I tell in my presentations are the situations I read about in lawsuits. They can make for heart breaking reading, tragic tales, but serve as excellent training tools. And so, when I put my hard-core lawyer’s suit of armor on, and steel myself to the reality that these stories are about real kids who have, often, suffered real pain, I can actually find some perverse satisfaction in coming across a new story. Read the rest of this entry
We frequently urge school transportation professionals to see themselves as an integral part of the education process. At the same time, I often become aware of drivers’ reluctance to comment on students’ inappropriate communications, disrespectful behavior, and failure to follow the rules. Sometimes that reluctance is the subject of court cases that have led me to say, often, “Doing nothing is never the right thing” when students bully or harass other students. “Doing nothing” is certainly “never the right thing” when students fail to follow essential rules of conduct that are directly related to the safety of everyone on the bus – rules as basic as staying in their seats while the bus is moving. Read the rest of this entry