Dear Judy,

My 4-year-old, kindergartner broke another student's glasses. Am I legally responsible to pay for the glasses?


Dear Distressed,

I believe that you are responsible, if not legally, then ethically. Sometimes its tough, but you do have to live with the consequences of your child's behavior. I suggest that the best way to handle this is to meet with the teacher and the other child's parents to work out a settlement. 

I assume that the breakage was an accident - maybe rough play -  but you should find out the circumstances from the teacher.  If you think your child was acting in self defense, then it's even more important to meet with the other child's parents. At the meeting, you can explore problems with classroom or playground behavior and ways to avoid situations like this.

The glasses are not so expensive that the case can go to court, except in small claims court, and that is usually inconvenient and time-consuming. I would avoid that and come to some agreement with the child's parents as to how you can pay in installments.  It's possible that the child's parents can't afford to replace them right away, so help from you would be very welcome.

By the way, I have researched this from the other point of view -- a parent wanting to hold the school responsible for theft. In a sense, destroying property is the same. The Discipline Code cites misusing property belonging to others as an infraction. It also cites restorative  actions as a possible intervention. You can also read the Chancellor's Regulation A-414 regarding school safety. Together with the discipline code you can find out how the school is supposed to handle incidents of this kind.  However, I did not see any mention of a victim's compensation or a school's liability. You can also ask for a copy of your school's specific safety plan to check if it includes relevant provisions.

In this case, however, a conference with the parents and the school to work it out should resolve the problem.

I'd like to invite readers who may have found themselves in a similar situation to chime in about their thoughts and solutions as well.

Good luck!

Judy Baum