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Title: School Liability in Double-Murder by Father(Failure to Read Explanation Sign out Sheet)
Author: Jack Ryan
ID: LL108
Issue: SU1-5
Issue Date: 2004-09-01
Edition: School
Type: Article

Body:

Haney v. Bradley County Bd. Of Education, 2004 Tenn. App. LEXIS 607 (Ct. App. Tenn. 2004), involves every schoolís worst nightmare. The case involved the murder of two children, both students at the Michigan Avenue Elementary School, at the hands of a parent, following an early release from school.

Holly Haney and Tracy Thacker were married in 1992. At the time of the marriage, Holly was pregnant with a daughter, Maylyn, although it was uncertain whether Tracy was the father. Many years later, a DNA test concluded that Tracy was not, in fact, the biological father. Thacker was listed on the birth certificate as the father and the child was born after Tracy and Holly were married. In 1994, the Thackers had a son, Carson.

In 2000, the marriage of Holly and Thacker began to fall apart. At first, the couple lived in the same house while divorce proceedings were pending. Following their separation, the two began arguing over custody of the two children, however, Tracy, who had raised Maylyn as his own, continued to have visitation with her.

At some point during the marital discord, Holly asked school officials not to release the two children to her estranged husband. The school officials informed Holly that she would have to provide the school with some form of court document before they could deprive a parent of the right to pick up their child at school. Holly then informed the school official that Tracy Thacker was not the biological father of Maylyn, notwithstanding the fact that he had always held himself out as her father and was listed as her biological father on the birth certificate. A DNA test, prior to this time confirmed that Tracy was not the father.

On December 12th, 2000, Tracy called his attorney regarding the custody of the two children. A heated discussion ensued in which the attorney threatened to drop the case and further informed Tracy that he had already lost custody. Shortly after the phone call Tracy headed to the school. He went immediately to Maylynís classroom but was told that he had to go to the office to sign her out before she could be dismissed early.

Thacker went to the office and signed both Carson and Maylyn out of school. ìOn the sign In/Out sheet Thacker wrote: ëKeeping Promise by Motherí as the reason for signing out Maylyn. The reason Thacker gave for signing out Carson was ëPay Back.íî Although he filled out the sheet, no school official reviewed his reasons for removing the two children from school.

Carson, a kindergartner, was walked to the office by his teacher. As Carson left with his father and Maylyn, the teacher, Ms. Stephenson, read the sign In/Out sheet and was disturbed by what she read. In addition, the teacher had spoken to Carsonís mom, Holly, an hour earlier regarding Carsonís upcoming school birthday party and Holly made no mention that Carson would be leaving school early.

When Ms. Stephenson brought the sign out sheet to the attention of the school principal, the principal went outside to determine if Mr. Thacker had already left the premises. Unfortunately Thacker and the children were already gone. The principal then began showing the sheet to a school resource officer, during which a call came out over the officerís police radio for arson at Thackerís home. Thacker had taken the two children home, stabbed them to death, doused them with gasoline and lit them on fire. Thacker was killed by police as he attacked officers with a blood-covered knife.

In reviewing the facts outlined in this case, the court rejected many of Holly Thackerís claims against school officials. The court allowed one claim to stand. This claim involved the negligence of school officials in failing to review the reasons for signing a child out before releasing the child. The court noted that the school officials in this case had testified that they had refused to release children in the past where a parent who sought the release was intoxicated. The court noted that release procedures were for the protection of the children and parental rights could be superseded by the childís welfare. The court concluded that since the sign out policy was for the welfare of the child, it must be read before a child is released.

The court concluded: ìEven if the Schoolís failure to read Thackerís explanations was not a violation of the Policy, we nevertheless hold that the Schoolís duty to exercise reasonable care for the safety of its students requires the School to read even a parentís explanation for signing out his or her children before they are allowed to leave.î

Policy Recommendation:

Require parents to fill out sign out sheet

Maintain file of court custody orders

Require school official to read/verify sheet prior to release of child



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