Outrage of the Week Update: Teacher Who Let Kids Climb Cliff on Trial

Hi Folks! Remember the case of Lia Grippo, the California mom who runs a day care center with a focus on nature? Her plight constituted our first Outrage of the Week. She let three of the kids in her care — two of them her own — climb a cliff while on a field trip to the beach. (The cliff was not above the water.) Though her kids had climbed this cliff before (as have kids since time immemorial — climbing used to be a normal part of childhood), onlookers freaked out and called the cops. Child Protective Services was alerted, and pretty soon Grippo’s day care license was suspended. Now here’s an article about her from the local paper, the Santa Barbara Independent, bringing us up to date. She is due in court this Monday. According to the paper:

At a time when parents are encouraged to allot sufficient outdoor activity for their children, Grippo said she has been stripped of her childcare license for hosting a program which embodies outdoor exploration. “I think that there is a growing trend toward risk aversion in our society that has really gone over the edge,” Grippo said. “We live in a time that both our children and ourselves must be as safe as possible, rather than as safe as necessary.” According to the allegations by the DSS, Grippo violated the personal rights of children in her care by “not providing adequate care and supervision” to three children while they were “climbing a cliff approximately 125 feet high while naked or partially clothed.” Additionally, the DSS allegation states that Grippo allowed children in her care to be “expos[ed] to natural hazards (cliffs and ocean fronts), thereby placing the daycare children in substantial danger.” Grippo claims the children climbing—two of which were her own and one, a child of a close friend—are avid child climbers who had scaled the beachside cliff before.

…Lizelda Lopez, Public Information Officer for the Community Care Licensing Division of the DSS, said the department will continue to seek the revocation of Grippo’s license in spite of the appeal. “What happened could have killed these children, so we take this very seriously,” Lopez said. “That’s why we are seeking the revocation… she failed to protect these children from the potential of becoming seriously hurt.” Currently, there are 50,000 licensed childcare facilities in the state. The DSS only pursues revocation against only one percent of these facilities on average per year. “It is not our goal to shut these programs down,” Lopez said. “It’s our goal to make sure that our children are in safe environments.”

…Grippo has fashioned her career by emphasizing exploration of nature in her programming for children. “When we keep children from testing their own abilities at a young age, I think we are doing them a great disservice,” Grippo said. “Our culture has become so litigious… children aren’t being allowed to get muddy, climb boulders, or play in the creek.”

No one at Free-Range Kids wants to see children get hurt — especially not plunging off of cliffs. But if these kids have climbed this thing before, AND Grippo was watching them AND we agree that there is a difference between sending our kids off to the beach without any supervision versus encouraging them to do some of the things children (and animals) have done since the beginning of time, like climb and explore, under our gaze, THEN we have to wonder why the state is so dead set on ending this nature-based program. Especially since the parents of the kids IN it have supported Grippo.

The state is right, “What happened could have killed these children.” Then again, so could tripping over a Thomas the Tank Engine, or falling down the stairs at Child Protective Services.  Can we please remember that not everything a child does has to be on a mat? — Lenore

46 Responses

  1. I hope you’re talking about a non-slip mat. No kidding. A childminder friend has to leave a note next to the doormat alerting visitors to the fact that it is a trip hazard!

  2. I just want to point out that as of 7:09 AM on 11/19/2009, you have her name as “Lisa Grippo” when it’s actually “Lia Grippo.” Out of respect for her, I thought you should correct it.

  3. I have to say that I am not on board with children climbing 150-foot cliffs. I’m all for kids climbing trees and to the top of the jungle gym, but 150 feet is a long way to fall.

  4. If they close her down for what could’ve happened (but didn’t), then they might as well close all daycares down for feeding children. After all they COULD choke on anything they’re offered. And not feeding them is clearly negligent too.

    The prosecutor needs to get her priorities straight and prosecute for things that actually happened.

    kradcliffe makes a good point 150 feet is a long way down, but why not simply disallow her to have children climb high cliffs without safety gear? There’s no reason to revoke her license for one incident.

    I’m not sure about the accusation either: Grippo violated the personal rights of children in her care by “not providing adequate care and supervision” to three children while they were “climbing a cliff approximately 125 feet high while naked or partially clothed.”

    First off all, it was a beach, being partially clothed there is the norm, nothing weird, and whether a parent allows their kid to be naked is at their discretion.

    Secondly, she kept her eye on them. That’s adequate supervision in my opinion. Kids can do stuff on their own – especially walk down a cliff on a path.

  5. Beach cliffs, like on sand dunes, aren’t that dangerous. If you are climbing a 125-feet cliff, you won’t fall the whole 125-feet. You fall just a short way into the soft sand, and have to climb up that bit again.

  6. ‘N’ is correct. I’ve played on beach cliffs myself. This story is just another dad, sad case of someone being prosecuted and persecuted for something that “could have happened” but didn’t. Under this logic what needs to be revoked are the drivers’ licenses of every parent in that state, because allowing children into a motor vehicle is statistically FAR more dangerous than a supervised, sandy cliff climb.

    What can we do to change this nonsense? What can we do to get these watchdogs and lawyers to focus on bad things that really happen, and prosecute those, instead of these “could have turned out badly” non-events?

  7. What if the title of the article had been “Teacher Who Let Kids Ride in Back Seat of Car on Trial”?

    Then the quote would have been “What happened could have killed these children, so we take this very seriously,” Lopez said. “That’s why we are seeking the revocation… she failed to protect these children from the potential of becoming seriously hurt.”

    Oh wait. There’s no difference.

  8. Reality check: What kind of cliff are we talking about? Beach dunes? or rocky outcrop?

    And.. I am totally confused. If the issue is the children’s safety – why do we care how they were attired? Wouldn’t we only care about the clothing if the safety was not dire?

    What were the real risks?

    If we can’t expose kids to any natural risks… none of us can take our kids to the beach anymore? hiking on trails? Sheesh, and we wonder why kids are so disconnected from nature?

  9. According to comments posted with the newspaper article, these cliffs were walker friendly slopes that posed no danger to the children. It wasn’t “150 feet straight down.” The mother of the third child wrote that they had walked the “gentle slope” many times. Not the Matterhorn. My son climbs mountains. When he scaled Denali he said it was a walk in the park – I had to lie down just thinking about it. Did any of these investigators actually go to these cliffs and walk them? I wonder how many children had the stuffing beaten out of them while those misguided couch potatoes at CCL investigated Lia.

  10. Of course she should be prosecuted – she neglected to bubblewrap the kids, strap them into a climbing harness, plunk on a helmet and make them wear a parachute pack just in case. The irresponsible horror!

    *face palm*

    Next thing you know, some busybody yahoo is going to call the cops on parents who allow their kids to climb trees – oh, wait, there was a story about that a few months ago, wasn’t there?

  11. Can we see a photo of these “cliffs” somewhere?

  12. I think the key here, since it’s already gone this far, is to defer to the parents of the other child involved. It sounds as if they have no issue with what happened. I wonder if they will be prosecuted next? Wouldn’t it follow?

    Hm? So we have a case below where children went missing inside a school where there was no real danger and the parents are in a huff and then there is this case where perhaps there was some danger and the parents are fine with it, but the courts are in a huff.

    People, get the knots out of your panties…everyone is fine!

    Did anyone else hear the headlines for Fox’s local news last night?

    “Local parents are concerned! How your child’s horse-play can lead to death! We tell you what you need to know @10:00!”

  13. This is unfortunate. It is frustrating to learn about a teacher who is being creative and working hard to fill a much needed space get hampered by the system. I hate the cookie cutter approach. It’s so limiting and lowest common denominator. This isn’t progress. I guess we can expect Wii Cliff Hanger soon…

  14. Alida, it doesn’t matter if the parent of the other child who was climbing the beach cliff gave permission, they were exposed to a potentially serious situation where they *could* have died!!! It sounds to me like guilty until proven innocent. We no longer wait until something bad happens (which it wouldn’t, I grew up going to the beach and scaling sandy beach cliffs. All that happens is you fall into soft sand).

    I hope this woman comes out of this vindicated and makes Ms. Lopez pay for her legal fees! I would love to think this would help her resolve NOT to bow to the ridiculous but I’m afraid if I were forced to go through this ordeal it would seriously scar me, too afraid to do anything lest I have to go through it again…all of this is making me want to homeschool my daughter (although as she’s only 17 months we’ve got a ways to go).

  15. This is the location: http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=santa+barbara&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=56.200193,79.013672&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=Santa+Barbara,+California&ll=34.403546,-119.742211&spn=0.007241,0.009645&t=h&z=17

    It’s hard to get a sense from the aerial view, but these are not sheer cliffs. Not sand dunes either, but not something where you’re going to slip and fall unless you’re careless or drunk.

    Here’s some more shots: http://www.santabarbara.com/virtual_tour/beaches/hendrys/

    The beach is officially ‘Arroyo Burro Beach’ but most people call it ‘Hendry’s Beach’

    It’s my understanding that they were on the east side, which aren’t as steep.

  16. From a comment on the article:

    “My child was one of the climbers and he was only up about 15 feet on a very gentle slope.”

  17. I think the answer is to become a pagan and claim climbing cliffs as a religious ritual.

  18. What’s really disturbing is the USSR mentality of people who feel they need to notify the government of the misdeeds of their fellow citizens. Why are so many busybodies calling the police like this? Has the slippery slope led to this? What will be next?

  19. The partially clothed thing comes into the issue IF the place they were climbing was jagged or had rough stuff growing on it or a lot of loose gravel, or what have you.

    But if as many are saying it was essentially a dune, then that’s a total non-factor. I can’t believe anyone would let a group of little kids climb a 150-foot ROCKY cliff, so I’m inclined to believe that version.

  20. Unless it is a prescription from a doctor Take a hike and call me in the morning

  21. I like what Lenore said about: “… falling down the stairs at Child Protective Services.”

    But I would change it to: A child could be killed falling down the stairs at Child Protective Services in the arms of the director of the agency.

    Interestingly, in the comments section after the article, a person responding to another comment said:

    “Humphrey, my kids (3 & 5) have climbed that hill and I’ve climbed up to the top/trail using my left index finger as additional balance! You don’t seem to have any real knowledge of it. To see a hill is not the same as knowing it.”

    That comment is very important because if you Google images of Arroyo Burro Beach, you would probably think, “Wow, that cliff looks really dangerous!”

    And another local said: “I’ve never heard of an accident there.”

    So obviously people who have actually walked up this cliff have not found it dangerous. There’s that old saying “looks can be deceiving,” and apparently it applies in this case. I encourage everyone to read the comments at the end of that article.

  22. Last we all chatted about this, where someone posted a picture of the cliffs, it was decided IT WAS UNSAFE. I just visited San Diego (yes further south of Santa Barbara) a couple weeks ago. As my kids walked near, around, under and on top of the cliffs my thoughts came back to this case a lot. Lia was stupid, end of story.

    The dangers of the cliffs in Southern California are notorious, documented and witnessed. I, personally, have seen a cliff collapse and crush a person who was underneath. It was a weekend, midday. I did not let my children climb the cliffs, nor would I ever. And I wouldn’t hesitate to call on someone who did.

    If I could share the one photo of the “danger cliffs unstable sign” that had clearly started at the top of the cliff, I would. It might give you a different perspective.

    This coming from a mom who lets her kids sit in the car, walk to the park and sled down the biggest hills they can find.

  23. Ali,

    What you seem to be saying here is, because you visited a place where the cliffs were unsafe to climb, that means that all cliffs are unsafe to climb, is that correct?

    Which has me a little confused, as I’ve just been reading descriptions of the ‘cliffs’ in question that depict them as, “walker friendly slopes that posed no danger to the children” and a “gentle slope”. Of course, this is from people who have actually been to, and climbed, the ‘cliffs’ in question, so what would they know?

  24. No, all the cliffs in Southern California extending from the border north past LA to Santa Barbara all have signs clearly posted that stay “danger, unstable, do not climb”. They area sandstone and prone to erosion, collapse and crumbling. I grew up in southern cali and all the beaches that have cliffs carry the warning. Including the one Lia was at.

  25. Here is a photo of the actual beach with the actual cliffs:
    http://www.santabarbara.com/virtual_tour/beaches/hendrys/

    See how the bushes on the cliff are down near the shore? See the collapse of the cliffs in between where the sandstone eroded away? Click on #10 and #3 to get a better idea of what we’re talking about.

  26. Ali, I have been there. There are spots that are not safe for anyone to climb, and there are spots I’d let my three year old son explore. What matters is EXACTLY where those children were climbing. I’m sorry I posted that same link without stating that. Just because there are dangerous spots at Hendry’s beach doesn’t mean those kids were at one of those spots.

    Also, there’s a big difference between walking along the top of the bluffs near the edge, where it can give way on you, and climbing around 15′ from the bottom.

  27. Really it doesn’t matter what we think of the pictures of the beach. What matters is her judgment. Is it sound? Well we can only decide if we agree or disagree with her decision if we visit the same location and know which section of cliff. The height of the cliff is of no importance because if you’re starting at the bottom of a 1,000 foot cliff you can still enjoy the bottom 20 feet of it the same way as you can the bottom 20 feet of the 25 foot cliff.

    The whole thing is particularly frustrating because not one was harmed. Even the parent of the kid who was not her own is not complaining.

  28. “The whole thing is particularly frustrating because not one was harmed.”

    Not only was nobody harmed on that particular occasion, it also sounds like nobody ever has been.

    Meanwhile, as stated above, thousands of children are suffering from actual abuse while CPS is wasting time and resources investigating nonsense.

  29. This bit just caught my attention:

    “Additionally, the DSS allegation states that Grippo allowed children in her care to be “expos[ed] to natural hazards (cliffs and ocean fronts), thereby placing the daycare children in substantial danger.”

    An ocean front is a ‘substantial danger’ now? Does this mean that anybody who takes their kids to the beach could be investigated by CPS?

  30. “…could have killed these children.”
    Gee, I hope she doesn’t allow them to drink milk. They might swallow wrong and choke to death.

  31. I go to Arroyo Burro frequently. The cliffs there are indeed extremely dangerous, and no one, adult or child, has any business climbing them. They are straight up and down and very unstable. They are not rock, but soft dirt that gives way easily. It is also not soft sand directly below, but hard sand with many jagged outcroppings of sedimentary rock and scattered large driftwood. Arroyo Burro is not the gentle sandy area on normally associates with SoCal–not a sandy “play area” but a rugged, scenic coastal area with rocky tidepools.

    I go there frequently with my son, and you know why I think we don’t hear of accidents there?

    No one else is dumb enough to try to climb the cliffs, much less to allow their children to.

    Sorry, but I’d have to side with the state here. A parent who allows kids to climb those cliffs should be warned, but a childcare provider with that little common sense has no business being a childcare provider, no matter how much she loves nature.

  32. You really got me

    I can’t hyperlink, but the address above gives a much more accurate picture of the feel of the beach than the one in comments above. Notice how there’s no one climbing the cliffs? Hmm…

  33. No one was hurt. End of story. Nothing should have been done. So these kids scaled some potentially dangerous cliffs. Big fat deal. Maybe they are actually agile and skilled enough to safely do this. We don’t know the kids, but obviously the parents did, and deemed it safe. No reason police or CPS should be involved, and no reason her liscence should be revoked. This makes me so angry that this is the way our society reacts. Shoot first, ask questions later. What ever happened with innocent until proven guilty? And oh wait? What is she guilty of? No crime was committed, unless we are all guilty of taking our kids to the beach, and letting them explore, or exposing them to other potentially dangerous things that could kill them on a daily basis. We should all have our kids taken away from us then. My mind just can’t wrap my head around this one. It really can’t.

  34. Wow….a 15 ft. “cliff”. If I let my kids set a foot on the bottom rung of a 20-ft. ladder, does that mean I let them climb up to the top of it?

    I hope someone with some sense takes a look at the “cliff”, sees where the kids actually were and brings some common sense into it. And I hope the people who called and anyone asking for Lia’s licence pay her legal fees and loose their jobs as well, since that’s what they’ve done to her.

  35. Rich Wilson said:
    “I think the answer is to become a pagan and claim climbing cliffs as a religious ritual.”

    I’m with Rich, ROFL!
    (And already pretty pagan, depending on whom you ask…)

  36. And yeah, for the record, if I found out my normal, suburban elementary school student had been bused to a *rocky* cliff and set loose above the ocean… I’d be pissed.

    But this seems not to be the case in the slightest.

    150 feet is a lot more feet than I personally am comfortable with, probably… but more importantly, sand does not equal rock, and cliff does not equal slope.

    I don’t think this should be prosecutable.

    Not to mention that this was a “nature-focused” daycare, according to some of the other reports out there… So what were they expecting? Trips to McD’s?

  37. Yeh, it’s interesting, the whole idea of risk (potential for damage). Kids get damaged every day, usually by motor vehicles, and no one from Child Protection Depts are doing anything about that very high risk. There is more risk getting to the child care centre than exploring nature and climbing with an experienced person.

  38. The phrase “on trial” implies that she’s being tried for a crime. This is a hearing seeking to revoke her daycare license. Hardly the same thing.

    Experienced hikers who take children out are properly attired in appropriate clothing and footwear for hiking and climbing. They don’t take children out naked and shoeless.

    Lia Grippo’s actions were controversial enough that the climbing drew a crowd of people and caused concerned members of the community to call the police. I really doubt that would have happened had the kids simply been frolicking innocently wih their caregiver on the side of a sandy slope.

  39. The kids were not climbing the cliffs from the beach. They were doing just what I would have had my kids doing – gentle slope, dunes, watch out for prickles.

    http://www.independent.com/news/2009/nov/14/teacher-trial/

    I find it rather humorous that a state that is nearly bankrupt would spend time on this rather than real child abuses. Also that the tradition of Free-thinking in the Santa Barbara region would have to succumb to such nanny-state shenanigans.

    She should have registered her day care as an outdoor camp/school. Because that is what it is.
    Hope she gets her license back and that the public outcry is loud and clear.

  40. I’d still like to see actual pictures of the “cliffs” (not just descriptions). Does anyone have links to photos?

  41. I’d still like to see actual pictures of the “cliffs” (not just descriptions). Does anyone have links to photos?

    I think we saw pictures the first time this came up, and consensus from people who live in the area was that these may be the sort of sand structures that randomly collapse and trap people.

  42. For those of you that live in the South Bay area of CA, then you’re familiar with Sand Dune Park in Manhattan Beach. The sand dunes are 100-ft high with a pretty severe angle (about 80 degrees, I think). Growing up a block away from them during the 70’s, we spent many happy summer days climbing that hill, or walking the zig-zagy trails to the top, then RUNNING DOWN it as fast as humanly possible without falling head-first into the sand, sometimes falling or rolling down it on purpose. Every parent in that neighborhood knew where their kids were, and at dinnertime I remember my dad walking to the end of the block and yelling up the hill to come home or no dinner, we’d fly home, inhale our food (OMG, we coulda choaked! Call Child Services!) and be back on the hill till it was too dark to see. Later the city put lights on the hill so we’d be there till they kicked us out at 9 PM. Good times were had by all, and nobody called the cops about endangerment issues. Heck, most of the cops knew all the kids in that area and where we played, so they didn’t really worry about us getting into trouble. We were so predictable. Sad that they closed the hill section down indefinitely for maintenance issues.

  43. Just for the record folks, I know exactly where the kids were playing. It is a 40 DEGREE SLOPE! Everyone keeps calling this a cliff. When I think of a “cliff” I think of a place where removing your hands results in freefall. If you take your hands off of this hill you sit down and look out at the islands. Also, while many of the surrounding bluffs are a very crumbly Monterey Shale, this type of shale varies greatly in its composition. The spot where the children in question scrambled up is solid rock. In fact, from testimony given by witnesses during the hearing, no on observed any rocks falling or crumbling where the children were.

  44. Those cliffs are at Arroyo Burro State Beach. A ‘web search will turn pictures. I climbed them at age 6 or 7, ‘way back in 1970 or so.

    Sure, they’re 150 feet tall and somewhat of a challenge for a 6 year old but you can’t fall far if you goof. They are relatively shallow sloped and covered in ice plant.

    My friends and I used to race each other to the top.

  45. How can I send money directly to Lisa Grippo Santa Barbara to assist her with legal fees?

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