How Can I Have a Rule That Says You Break It, You Buy It?
Recently a question came up about how best to word the concept of “you break it, you buy it” when creating a form for students to check out equipment.
I taught in one of the 7th largest school systems in the country in a suburb of Washington, DC in Northern Virginia. Being so close to DC provided the unique statistic of “more attorney’s per capita than anywhere else in the country.” You can bet that with so many attorney’s as parents of our students, the school system was very protective of itself and had an extremely thorough department of attorney’s working for the schools.
Our school system did not insure the video gear. Frankly, I don’t know if they insured any gear anywhere but I knew that the gear I had was uninsured. There was a system to repair malfunctioning gear and to replace worn out gear but nothing for damage or loss. While an accident could occur to anyone, the fact that an accident occurred would not generate a replacement. And while everyone can understand that the lens on the camera is now cracked as the result of an accident on Steve’s part, that understanding does not replace the lens so that Mary can shoot her show in four days. She had reserved the camera Steve accidentally broke and no other cameras are available for Mary to use. Is it fair or right that Mary, the amount of her time spent pre-production on her show, and or her grade, must suffer because Steve had an accident? Actually, what happens to every student who has built their time, grade, and other activities around having access to this camera on a specific date in the future?
Faced with this reality I had to put in place a policy similar to the “you break it, you buy it” concept. Since it was obvious that only an extremely rare student would be able to even afford to replace a broken piece of equipment, I had to be able to reach out to parents and their finances. To do that, I needed something that would have to be created by the school system’s attorneys.
At a meeting with one of the attorneys, I laid out the problem and he quickly understood the issue. I told him I needed to hold the parent’s responsible for the equipment. His first comment back was, “what about the parent who can’t afford to make that commitment?” That answer was easy – students were not required to check out equipment in order to pass the class. They could perform all their required work within the classroom without ever having to go on location with gear.
I suggested that to make life easy for everyone, it would be terrific if I could get a form that would be legally binding that could be signed by parents at the beginning of the school year and cover the entire year. He quickly informed me that a blanket form is only a pipedream and would never be binding in a court of law. He said that whatever form that is created must be signed EACH time the gear is checkout out.
I complained that if they can’t take the gear out without a parent signature on a form and they decide they need to shoot something today that they can’t shoot without running home, getting a signature coming back to school, pick up the equipment and by the time they gather and load things up to take out, it may be too late to shoot. His response: Surely you’re teaching the students to plan ahead and not fly by the seat of their pants. (He was right of course. Students should be planning ahead.) Also, there is nothing to stop students from having several forms already signed by their parents in their lockers ready to go – which, of course, is another form of pre-planning.
He said he understood what I was asking for and he’d start working on it. A couple of days later he sent me the wording he wanted me to put in the form. He also made some suggestions for the rest of the form. He suggested placing a line where both the student and the parent would sign, and a place for the date and time it was leaving the facility and the date and time they promised to bring it back (so someone else could use it). He said to place a list of the equipment the students were taking out along with each piece’s dollar value with a blank line where they could place a check mark on just the items they were taking (obviously students don’t take everything on the list when they take gear out). The last suggestion was for a place for someone else to sign off after the gear is all checked to make sure the form accurately depicts what is being taken.
Obviously, you don’t just throw something like this on the parents without some kind of explanation and I fully explained the form and its concept at my orientation meeting for all parents near around the third week of the school year. Two weeks before the parent orientation meeting I explained the form to the students. My explanation to the students usually went something like this:
“Many of you signed up for this course so you could get a chance to use the video equipment. I’m sure you realize that the equipment is quite expensive. I’m telling you now that the equipment is not insured and if it is damaged or broken or lost while you have it in your possession, that you and your parents are financially responsible for replacement or repair. I’ll be explaining this to your parents at the orientation meeting for parents. You’ll start checking out equipment to take on location in a couple of months and you can only check out the equipment your parents agree to be financially responsible for it if you damage or lose it. What if your parents can’t or won’t sign the form? You can’t check out equipment. Period. Can you pass the class and never check out equipment? Yes. You can fulfill all your requirements and never leave the studio. Is it more fun to go out on location? Absolutely!
“I’m telling all of you students now for a very good reason. If you are like many teenagers, your relationship with your parents might be a bit tumultuous right now. If this is the case, you have a couple of months to completely change that relationship. You’ll need to show your parents maturity, responsibility, respect – you know where this is going – all the character qualities that you know your parents really want to see from you. Gain their respect and trust as fast as you can because only if they trust you will they sign those equipment forms. It’s entirely possible that the equipment you put in your trunk the first time you check out gear will be worth as much as your tuition for your first semester of college. Ask yourself right now? Would your parents sign that form now? If the answer is, “no,” then start immediately to repair your relationship and build trust.”
Perhaps now you know what I told the parents at the orientation meeting. I told them exactly what I had encouraged their students to do. I can’t begin to tell you the number of parents who contacted me back over the years thanking me impacting their child in supporting their effort to mold their child’s character. (By the way, if a parent thinks you’re supporting them, they seem to fall all over themselves in supporting you in return.) In actuality I essentially just said what every parent said but I was someone who wasn’t their parent and who had something (equipment) which the kids wanted. The kids responded beautifully to my challenge.
Below is the completed form.