Lady Helps Boy Down from Tree, School Accuses Her of “Trespassing”

Dear Readers: This one just proves what monkeys we become when we refuse to use our brains (or tails). A 5-year-old boy in England climbed up a tree at the end of recess. Fine. But rather than helping — or even ordering — him down, the teachers followed their “health and safety” guidelines…and left him there. Their rules apparently say they are supposed to  “observe from a distance” (lest they distract the child) rather than actually DO anything.

Well they observed from such a distance that it wasn’t until about 45 minutes later that some lady passing by saw the boy, still up the tree, and helped him down. Then she walked him back into school whereupon she was reported to the police for trespassing.

As a school official put it, “The safety of our pupils is our top priority and we should like to make it clear that this child was being observed at all times during this very short incident…. To protect children we cannot assume that people who enter the school grounds without permission have innocent intentions and must act accordingly.”

Yes, let’s not judge their intentions by the fact that they are showing up WITH a child, rather than running off with one.The “trespasser” herself put it best: “I am a mother myself and I find it a bit ridiculous that the school’s policy is to leave a child up a tree.”

As you know, Free-Range is all for kids climbing trees. It also very unlikely that the boy was in danger (as the Samaritan worried) of being “snatched.” Nonetheless, we are all for kids coming down from trees when it’s time for school to begin again. To go by “rules and regulations” rather than common sense when a kid is stuck up a tree makes as much sense as leaving a family in a burning building because the sign on the door says, “Authorized Personnel Only.”

Actually, what this whole incident comes down to, as so much Free-Ranging does, is this: When we rigidly adhere to oppressive, catch-all rules — rules that are sometimes only in place for legal reasons, or “cover your rear” reasons — we lose the great thing that makes us human: our ability to think and reason and do what makes sense.

It’s enough to make you climb a tree. — Lenore

The root of the problem.

47 Responses

  1. I wondered why the police were called to begin with (much less the obvious WTF of the teachers abandoning their posts and essentially forcing some random bystander to intervene for the safety of the child).

    Tresspass on school grounds is a civil matter, if I recall correctly. /sigh.

    The school was just really really wrong on many levels here. C.Y.A. GTFO. pardon my rudeness.

  2. I think this article sums up the madness of the rules we have created in our society.

    1) Good on the school for not trying to get the child down from the tree. If a child won’t come down, he won’t come down. My response in this situation – and yes I’ve been there, as a HT (school principal) – is to let the child know that the time he spends up the tree when he should be in class is being noted. And that this time will be made up from his free time as he’ll have to catch up on missed classwork. As the saying goes…if you can’t do the time, then don’t do the crime!

    2) The trespassing response from the school is bizarre. In Scotland, anyone may walk through the grounds of a school. It’s public not private property. Different law to England! Being into conspiracy theories, I’m wondering if there’s more to this story than meets the eye. Perhaps the woman is a nuisance to the school community and this was an opportunity to reduce her level of interference. Who knows!

    3) By-the-by, I do know a kid who was suspended from school on the grounds of health and safety recently. He refused to leave the astro-turf when asked to do so – the surface was deemed very dangerous by school staff. I had no idea astro turf was lethal…and I’m wondering if you’ve any stats tucked away here on the matter, Lenore!

  3. Some big gaps in this story. Was the boy having trouble coming down or was he refusing to come down? He obviously came down for her, but if the teachers tried earlier, and he refused, it might be safer to leave him up to ‘stew’. It also seems the whole trespassing thing only came up after she created a row with the teachers.

    I guess I just can’t get freaked out that he was ‘missing lessons’. It sounds like he was in the midst of one.

    My real concern would be “what would cause a child to run away up a tree”? Any bullying going on?

  4. So, here’s a funny thing. Just yesterday while my first grade son was at soccer practice on a school yard, my 4th grader (9 years old) climbed up a tree on the school property. I saw, him, and let him climb it. But as I was standing there, watching out of the corner of my eye while visiting with some other mommies, one of the moms saw him and FUHREAKED OUT OMG THERE IS A KID CLIMBING A TREE and ran over there, proceeded to make him come down and then half spotted, half pulled him out of the tree. I didn’t even have a chance to react. Then he came over to me, and the mom said, “Oh, is he yours? We thought he didn’t have any supervision since someone would let him climb that tree.”
    WTF people? It’s a tree, not a barbed wire fence. They couldn’t believe that I stood by and did nothing.
    It’s gonna be an interesting soccer season, methinks.

  5. What I find quite interesting is the tag at the end of the article: “We are no longer accepting comments on this article.” Apparently everyone BUT the school understands that they’ve gone overboard.

  6. I can’t even like, understand this. I mean, I just can’t wrap my brain around these rules, the incident, the reactions from the teachers. None of it! Crazy!

    -adrienne
    http://wearegoodkin.com

  7. Lenore, you hit it on the head with this:

    When we rigidly adhere to oppressive, catch-all rules — rules that are sometimes only in place for legal reasons, or “cover your rear” reasons — we lose the great thing that makes us human: our ability to think and reason and do what makes sense.

    I don’t have anything further to say!

  8. Regardless of why the kid was up the tree and why he didn’t come down on his own, this concerned citizen should not be attacked for being concerned. I may or may not agree with her concern, depending. 5 is pretty young, and it is quite possible he got scared and felt he couldn’t come down without help.

    I thought the taxpayers paid for the schools. Either way, even if someone is walking across my private yard, it’s up to me whether I charge them with trespassing. The idea that coming to the assistance of a little boy on school grounds is per se criminal trespassing is ridiculous. What is this world coming to?

    And we wonder why so many people just look the other way when neighbors are in trouble.

    Frankly, I suspect that in fact the school wasn’t watching out for this little boy as they should have, and now they are trying to cover it up. If they were really “watching from afar,” why did this woman get all the way to the school with the little boy? Why didn’t his teacher come along and take over at some point? And if they weren’t watching this boy, then who is creating a risk of “snatching”?

    I wonder what this child’s mother thinks of this, too. I have nothing against tree climbing, but leaving a 5-year-old up a tree for 45 minutes while allegedly “watching from afar”? Wouldn’t you at least go over there periodically and check to see if the kid was staying up there voluntarily?

    When I was about 10, I got in big trouble for hanging back in the bathroom after gym class. Problem was, for some odd reason (probably my nervousness after being berated several times by the teacher), I couldn’t seem to get my dress properly buttoned and the bow neatly tied from behind, within the time limit. She assumed I was hanging back intentionally. No big deal, but the point is, things aren’t always as they seem with kids.

  9. As you reflect upon the article, ponder this: These are the people entrusted with the minds of our children! Try to get some sleep after that!

  10. After reading the linked article, I have to chuckle, because they say “if you had a concern, you should have talked to the staff and they would have been happy to help.” Um, really? What would they have said, other than “our policy is to leave the kid hanging there until he falls out and cracks his head”?

  11. Andy, exactly what I was planning to say (before I got lost in the details).

    If our educators reason in this way, we have reason to be very worried about the upcoming generation.

  12. This is a pretty weird story. I don’t think the idea of not bringing the kid down is necessarily a bad one – trying to get a kid out of a tree when s/he wants to stay there can be dangerous. But the whole chain of events just makes you think the school has lost it.

    Watching “from a distance” appears to have meant too far away to do anything *but* watch (and the lady in the article questions whether they even knew he was in the tree). Plus, it seems the kid could be coaxed out by the time the Samaritan passed, and you have to wonder a little about a school where no teacher can coax a 5 year old out of a tree at the end of break.

    And finally – reporting her to the police for trespass? Trespass on it’s own is not a criminal offence in the UK. Without aggravating factors (like carrying an offensive weapon) it can only give rise to civil liability. If a PCSO had come round to my house to tell me off for trespassing they’d wish they hadn’t. Appalling attempt to use the cloak of authority to cover up poor school management and communication.

  13. Looks like two issues here:

    1.) Kid climbing tree

    2.) School Officials Mean treatment of the Good Samaritan

    My first thought was – Wouldn’t the FreeRange idea be that if the kid could get up into the tree, he should be able to find a way down. And just because he got up and then felt scared to come down doesn’t mean you should help him? The longer he’s up there, the longer he has to think about how to get down…and learn that someone isn’t always going to bail him out.

    So, in a way the school was being more free range here…

    But …
    their treatment of the Good Samaritan was nasty!

  14. The school has responded to the newspaper article and has a rather different version of events – they make their case in their newsletter:
    http://www.learningtolovelearning.co.uk/folder.asp?id=35

    It makes both the school and the Samaritan sound like they got worked up instead of taking a step back.

  15. Surely the school staff should just have said “thank you”. Wiltshire is not Scotland, but it has been pretty cold this year: I wonder what this five-year-old was wearing to be safely left up a tree for 45 minutes in early March.

    As for “trespassing offence” – two points: she was visited by a PCSO (Police Community Support Officers – essentially a uniformed civilian) after the incident, and there is a fair chance that she was simply being warned off, rather than threatened with prosecution. But it seems that there is an offence of “causing or permitting a nuisance or disturbance on school premises” which could be committed by refusing to leave, or returning after being required to leave.

  16. After reading the different reports, I don’t know which I believe. Certainly there’s good reason to be, um, skeptical of the British tabloid press.

    Were my 5-year old in the situation described in the article, I’d want school officials to extract him or to stay with him and summon me and/or summon help (if they didn’t think they could safely get him out of the tree). And @Steve yes, I consider myself a free-range parent and no, I don’t think that implies that I should leave a 5-year old in a tree he has climbed up, whether because he refuses to come down or because he’s stuck.

  17. Hmm … I’ve just been sent an interesting tweet as I commented upon the controversial nature of the matter. It seems now to be a hot topic regarding the reporting of the matter by the press. The website that is critical of the reporting, is relying only on the schools interpretation of the events, which is surely bias in itself:

    http://www.angrymob.uponnothing.co.uk/home/70-newspaper-lies/1032-really-bad-journalism

    Ultimately we will not really know what happened. I just think it does raise concerns though that require a bit of thinking through.

  18. he could of had a hard time getting down. not realy a good example but when i get on the counter get something from a high cabinet i have to normaly have some on help me down. cause im afraid my feet might slip.

  19. The update of the story mentioned by helenquine – here –

    http://www.learningtolovelearning.co.uk/files/Letter%20to%20parents%20re%20newspaper%20articles%202.pdf

    makes a lot more sense. Seems the boy came down on his own. And the so-called Good Samaritan was more of a interfering busy-body.

  20. This is about the bigger problem of non-sense rules that are due to a fear of legal repercussions meant to pander to anyone, even if no has actually sued.
    It goes beyond the issue of FRK although we often hear it is being done “for the children.”
    Bill Cosby once said “I don’t know the key to success, but the key to failure is trying to please everybody.”

    Many that over-react in one situation using zero tolerance may do so again.
    The same Connecticut mayor Lenore mentioned in her book that cut down the hickory trees over worry that a nut diluted in a pool-ful of water would affect 1 child has now had some paintings removed because of nudity. 2 of them by a famous local artist had been displayed for 20 years but from a complaint, they are now gone. In local politics his mental state almost became an issue in the last election.

  21. Ridiculous. I wonder what makes people start losing common sense. Plant and Garden Blog

  22. You’re right, you can’t “assume” that someone has innocent intentions. YOU CAN LOOK AT WHAT THEY DO AND OBSERVE THAT THEIR INTENTIONS ARE OBVIOUSLY INNOCENT, SINCE THEIR ACTIONS WERE!!!! Why are we talking about “assuming” anything????

    Good GRIEF, what insanity!

  23. The line that gets me is “during this very short incident”. I know of no teacher who would consider watching a single student up a tree during class time a “very short incident” – what were the rest of the staff’s students doing during that time?

    I also don’t know of any 5 year old for whom sitting in one place for 45 minutes or more is a “very short” *anything*.

    There is a time for climbing trees (recess) and a time for following instructions and being in class. Being a responsible free-ranger means knowing when we’re obliged to follow group constraints (like when in a group environment such as school where our behavior can negatively impact the experience of those around us, like the other kids who could be abruptly short a teacher), and when it’s ok to pursue our personal interests.

    I’d have endorsed the teachers getting him out of the tree not for fear of his safety, but to teach him to be respectful of the his teacher and fellow classmates’ time.

  24. Surely a vice principal or someone could have sat under the tree reading a book until the boy was ready to ask for help. This is the part of the story I find most bewildering.

  25. Here is my read on the situation. I wonder if the boy in question is a runner. I have a runner in my afternoon class (4th grade). In my situation it is because the child has emotional and mental problems. We are under strict instructions to NOT chase her down.

    It is what she wants, and her behavior will get more dangerous if chased. We (the inclusion aid or I) keep her in sight, while we either call the office or send a child. (The kids have been dealing with her since Kinder and know the drill). The office will send an administrator, who is trained in how to handle children like her without getting hurt or hurting the child. I would never restrain a child. I’m not trained, my professional insurance would not cover me, and I could be criminally libel. I have physically blocked an aggressor from his/her target by putting the target behind me. Fortunately I have glared the aggressors down.

    Now this was a 5 year old so probably more a maturity issue than a ED issue. Maybe he just needed some cool down time. It sounds like the teachers took the other kids in, while alerting people to watch this child. Much better than a keystone cops review of the teachers chasing a kid down to the amusement of other kids. maybe the teacher was going to have someone take her class, or put them in a neighbor’s room while she went to deal with the child.

    If this woman really climbed over a locked gate – I have more of a problem with her. If I saw a child on a playground and it looked like he should be in class. I would go to the office or call the office and give them a heads up.

  26. Yep… stupidity is running rampant. Apparently moreso in the Queen’s court than the USA’s – and that’s saying something!

    I’m 32. My husband is 34. My son is 8. My daughter is 9. She has soccer practice at the park behind her school. My son shimmies up a tree and says, “This is cool.” Well – in about 5 minutes, there we are – me, my husband, and my son, in the tree, watching practice. 😀 Reminded me of the good ol’ days and my son was beaming that mom and dad went up the tree with him.

    There’s not a chance I wouldn’t fight something like this just to point out to the people around me that common sense is sorely lacking.

    To the mom that let her son climb up the tree and the lady half yanked him out… she would have had hell to pay if it would have been me – lemme tell ya.

  27. “If this woman really climbed over a locked gate – I have more of a problem with her. ”

    I really don’t see why. Common sense indicates that gates are locked to keep people out of where they don’t ordinarily belong. If you see a child apparently in some kind of physical trouble, that’s not “ordinary,” and it’s not out of line to violate the locked fence to help. It may be that it wasn’t the best of all possible choices, but in general a child’s safety is more important than a locked gate.

  28. Firstly, you observe palnts and animals in trees, not people.

    Secondly, the schools policy makes it ridiculously easy to cut class. No one was interested in the instruction he was missing?

    Thirdly, At least in the US, school playgrounds are public property, open to the community, and unless the gate was locked there really was no trespass.

  29. @Steve

    Both my kids, but especially my daughter as she would climb higher than my son, had at least one incident at around 5 or 6 where they climbed up, but then kinda froze at the height when trying to get down. With both kids, I climbed partway up, and backed slowly down, instructing them where to place their feet, and where to grab on. I showed them, taught them, how to find the path. The next time, I talked them through it from the ground. Neither kid needed help a third time. I didn’t just let them muddle through on their own. Anymore than I would hand a 7 year old a knife and tell him/her to cut carrots without showing them, teaching them, how to do so safely.

  30. I love that the school can’t permit its staff to rein in a kid who is doing something they shouldn’t be, and yet the school takes the CYA approach by reporting the kindly person who helped this kid out of a tree. Glad to know this happened in England, so we Americans see we’re not the only freak show in the world. If we can look at THEM at say, “how stupid,” maybe eventually it’ll sink in HERE.

    A little FYI to bmj2k, in our community, the park district and school district tend to purchase land next to one another. Park district playgrounds are generally posted “no access” to the general public during lunch recess time because out students use them. We have asked people to leave, because the last thing we need is to have a 5th grader squash a 2-year-old because the parent didn’t recognize the fact that it’s not a good decision to have your toddler there at that time.

    I don’t say it’s a “GREAT” idea, but public property isn’t always available to the public…

  31. …and people wonder why our separation from England might have been a good thing….😉

    How would this observe-only policy have looked, had the kid fallen and broken his neck?

  32. bmj2k,
    No my school’s playground is NOT public property during the school day. Even the sparks parks are not open to the public during the day. They are for the school’s exclusive use during the day.

    We have had people get irate because we have removed their still in diapers children from the playground to the office. If the child was able to tell us where they live, or at least lead an administrator to their apartment we did that. But most of the time the child can’t or won’t communicate* with us. In those cases the police are called. Our SW or Councilor takes the child around the classrooms to see if our students can ID the child.

    *Does not respond to spoken English or Spanish, written English or Spanish, informal sign, or formal ASL

  33. I’m inclined to believe that this story is completely bogus. If you follow the links above to the school’s version, you’ll see that the boy’s mother backs up the school.

    If the school’s version is accurate, the boy was never in the tree to begin with, teacher’s aides and other students were outside with him and this was one of three incidents with the same woman.

    Additionally, all the “facts” in the newspaper article came from the purported rescuer.

  34. Lenore, I’m sure you’ve jumped on this by now:

    http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-1262250/Great-grandmother-tagged-selling-goldfish.html

    What is up with England?! First escorting kids up to age 16 to the restroom and now harsh punishments for selling goldfish?!

  35. @ jenny – I’ve discussed my rural upbringing here a lot (mainly on the topic of 12 year olds having unsupervised access to firearms, which was perfectly normal where I grew up), but I was able to negotiate a barbed wire (pronounced “bob war”) fence 6 or 7 years before my parents would let me run around by myself in the woods with a .22 or a shotgun.

  36. Sometimes the average person knows a lot more about child safety than the school.

    When my son was in kindergarten, I happened to be driving past the school on an errand at recess time. I spotted two kindergarten girls from his class about 30 or so yards past the edge of the school property, in a grassy area a foot from the road.

    I watched for a few minutes, but no teacher came to call them back to the playground. I recognized the girls, so I stopped to say hello in an attempt to find out if they were supposed to be on the playground, and to see if any teacher on playground duty had noticed they had strayed so far off.

    The girls just smiled and waved. No teacher was looking in our direction, nor did they react when I called out to the teachers (pretty loudly). I couldn’t leave my car b/c I had a child sleeping in the back seat, so I called the school office on my cell. It took 10 full minutes for the message to get from there to the teachers on the playground, who meandered over to the girls in slow motion.

    A very short time later, I got a phone call at home from the principal who was angry at me for “interfering with school routines” and hinted that if I told the story to other parents, it might “start a rumor mill” and “cause a panic.”

    I drove directly over to the houses of the girls’ mothers and told them exactly what I saw. I believe the principal desserved all of the upset and panic those two mothers heaped upon him.

    The fact is, while under the care of the school during the school day, the girls, ages 5 or 6, were off school property, out of sight of teachers, for at least 15 minutes (maybe more); no one noticed they were missing, no one glanced in my direction as I yelled out to the teachers, and once alerted, the school took 10 minutes to do anything about it. I’d say those particular school routines deserved to be interfered with, no?

  37. Lisa – that sounds like the school was trying to keep you quiet because it was scared of parents’ reaction, and they handled it very badly. But I can’t say I think they should have all the responsibility here. The idea that young kids can’t be expected to stay on school property or otherwise behave responsibly of their own volition is part of what causes some of the ridiculous school policy we often complain about here.

    It’s those kids who need their routines upsetting – what on earth were they doing there when they should have been in the yard? Don’t they know better?

    Which isn’t to say that teachers shouldn’t be vigilant, but I don’t think we should be expecting prison security in schools. There should be some expectations of the kids too. If parents were less hyper critical of schools when their kids got themselves in scrapes and instead focused their criticism on the child who didn’t do what they were supposed to, we might find the schools didn’t try to turn everything into a Kafkaesque drama.

  38. Helenquine – I agree except that the kids in this case were just about 6. If they were older, I’d say yes, they should know to stay in bounds. And did I mention it was the first week of school? So the teachers on playground duty should have been more aware. THey were chatting in a group, not watching.

  39. The story is indeed completely bogus, and the mother in question is livid. She is angry with how the tabloid media mis-reported it to stir up anger.

    http://www.markpack.org.uk/your-handy-guide-to-how-to-be-a-journalist/

  40. RIDICULOUS

  41. Hmm….sounds like they were trying to teach the kid a lesson, let it go on too long (45 minutes?), got caught red handed, and are now trying to cover their arses with some story about “our policy…” and an attack on the citizen who caught them.

    The policy in my house is “if you can get up, you can get down; don’t climb any higher than you can get down.” I refuse to help my 6 year old back down the tree. So I get it. But she usually comes down within 5 minutes, after some whinning. I don’t think I’d leave her up there for 45! That’s cruel.

  42. Except that it wasn’t 45 minutes. Or “stuck” in the tree. Or that a “rescue” was required.

  43. Thanks for the correction, Stilgherrian.

  44. […] they can't bear to watch. The contentiousness of the topic is clear from the number of parenting blogs that have, long, sometimes vociferous discussions about […]

  45. http://www.learningtolovelearning.co.uk/folder.asp?id=35

    Unfortunately the true version won’t sell newspapers, so the tabloids make it up as they go along.
    Typical!!

  46. Now I am eager for your next post.

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