Who Should be Responsible for Children on the School Grounds after School

Now listen before I start I want to make something clear, I am a very supportive friend and fellow mom. I am all for the “It takes a village” way of life when it comes to my community.

It takes a village is a proverb that leverages the cultural context and belief that it takes an entire community to raise a child: A child has the best ability to become a healthy adult if the entire community takes an active role in contributing to the rearing of the child.

I have been very fortunate over the years with many friends who take my children when I am under the weather, running late, busy with work or out of town. I also have taken other children while parents are busy, ill, running late or most recently, having a baby. Having a community that you can count on is important and so great. It is great for the children and so healthy for the parents.

When a parent asks for help I feel it is our duty to do what we can to help them. Good karma and a moral obligation to those around us is beneficial to all. Plus you never know when you may be the one asking for help.

But what do you do when someone puts the responsibility of another person’s child on you when they should not?

Who Should be Responsible for Children on the School Grounds after School

Let me explain the situation

Our small town has a small school with a new principal. I have always been told previously by the school if I am running late not to worry, the staff will be on the school grounds watching the kids. If a certain amount of time passes the child will be brought into the office and wait with the principal for the parent to arrive. Even though I have only been late once this was comforting. When I was late by 10 minutes I called the school and let them know as well as a fellow mom to keep an eye on my daughter.

Well things seem to have changed this year.

When I went to pick my daughter up yesterday a grandma told me of a new rule. All children must have someone responsible for them when on the school yard.

Ok, well until the parents get there that is the staff at the school, right?

Apparently not.

She told me the day before, after school a few parents were in the school having a meeting with a teacher. Their children all over the age of eight were outside playing. The parents obviously made the decision that this was ok. There are usually lots of parents, teachers etc around so I can see why they thought this was ok for a brief time.  I have allowed my daughter to play outside of the school while I spoke with her teacher before.

The principal walked over to the grandma who was there with another lady both watching a few children in their care. She asked them if the other kids  playing were with them. They both replied “No”. She said she had to leave but someone had to accept responsibility for these kids. “Will you take responsibility of these four kids?”

Um what?

Being put the spot the woman agreed, but told me she was extremely confused. She had to soon take her grand-kids home, but now was responsible for these children, for who knows how long.

I told her she should have said no.

It is the principal’s responsibility to supervise these children if their parent and teacher is not there. This is after school on the school grounds. She does not know this woman or the children’s parents. I am not saying the school is a babysitter, but if the person in charge wanted someone to accept responsibility, she should have herself.

I would have said no. I would not have been comfortable taking on responsibility of children when I do not know them or their parents. Even the wording makes me uncomfortable. What if something happened? What if you needed to leave? What if the parents left out another door and assumed the kids went home? Now I am worried if I am running late that someone else will be appointed ‘responsible’ for my daughter. This kind of bothers me.

Yes this is a conversation relayed and I did not hear it first hand. But I am planning on asking the office today about steps taken for students when parents are late.

But before I do that, I am curious to know what you think. Who should be responsible for students on the school yard?




I spoke to the school and the policy is, after the school bus leaves any child left is to walk home (if parents allow) or go to the office and wait. If it is past a certain time, the principal calls those listed on the contact form. I even saw teachers enforcing this. It made me feel more comfortable knowing my daughter would not be left if an emergency was to come up




  1. Legally, in Ontario, 15 minutes after school has ended, the responsibility for the school to look after anyone on the school grounds ends. That is the time that teachers are free to leave the school to go home and the legal responsibility then returns back to their parents.

    Does that sound harsh? You would not believe the number of parents who will think, oh well my kid is looked after by the school, so even though I’m already running late, it’s just fine for me to run a few errands on the way. I mean, what’s half an hour right?

    Obviously, if a child hasn’t been picked up on time, the principal is responsible for making sure the child is appropriately looked after by another staff member if they can’t do it themselves. That’s pretty clear. But when you get into the “we have a meeting at the school and we’re leaving the kids outside while we meet” scenario things become more complicated.

    If your kids are out there still within the 15 minute period, the school is legally responsible for them. That means a staff member has to be out there with them. The school needs to make it clear that they don’t have anyone available to do such supervision and they will need to discuss options with the parents. If a bunch of parents are coming to a meeting, perhaps they can set up babysitting. If it’s only one child, maybe that child can sit outside the meeting room and wait Unfortunately, the liability issues of letting them play outside while still legally under the responsibility of the school are huge. That being said, asking another parent to take on that responsibility is highly inappropriate. That doesn’t absolve the school of its responsibilities anyway and would not be looked upon favourably by the courts.

    By the way, if a parent repeatedly is late to pick up their children, there are legal measures that the school can take, including to call the police or children’s aid to report the parents. A once in a while incident is considered human. A repeated issue is considered neglect. Most schools are going to avoid such a severe response if they can but those are the laws that can be followed.

  2. Parents. The school’s responsibility ends when school lets out unless contractual obligations or the law state otherwise. Even if they are legally stuck, a 5 minute grace period once per year per child adds up, and isn’t right. Staff could have a loved one dying in hospital, etc. Have an emergency contact ready to step in, and otherwise set an earlier arrival time than school’s end in order to have a cushion. The threat of a call to the cops and social services was effective in eliminating “unavoidable delays” around here. Tough on parents, but comes with the decision to be one.

  3. After school there is absolutely no teacher/school staff supervision. Parents are to pick up their kids right at the bell, they take the school bus or you pay for after school supervision through a separate agency. The school is only responsible between the hours of 8:45 and 3:30 in our case.

  4. My kids school gets out at 3:10 I’m there at 3p every single day. I personally think its up to the parents. If they are late, it happens – but everyday? or often? then something needs to be done about that! After 3:30 no one is outside at our school, so if kids are out there – they go into the office and wait for their parents. By 4 if parents aren’t there they office staff have to stay late (office closes at 4) and call parents, and wait for them etc. Obviously things happen, but as parents we know when our kids are done school everyday we should be well prepared to get there in time and if there is some sort of reason having someone close by to go wait with your kids is a good idea, or calling the school. I just couldnt imagine being so late and hoping someone would watch my kids.

  5. Matthew Tully says

    I’m actually happy and quite surprised with the comments I’ve read so far. I am in the system and see it almost daily where this is an issue. Parents ARE using schools as they would a babysitter/daycare and the school districts can’t win. Let me shift focus just a bit. It’s starting to snow through the night and calling for a rough day. The superintendent closes the schools. The phone calls they field from irate parents wanting their kids in school so they can go to work or have time at home. So here they close to keep busses off the road with students safety in mind. They have to still pay the teachers whom are not at work and it comes out of the budget and on top of it have to listen to people screaming on the phone. Today is not like when you and I went to school. I suggest to whomever this is happening to that they make arrangements with someone if they can’t be there and ensure it is reliable. School employees are not paid after hours to become a daycare service and have families to get home to as well. Just my two cents and an important topic!

    • I get that but if there is an emergency someone needs to step up and take responsibility. I would hope the staff would do that

    • Where I live schools don’t close. Buses don’t run, but the school is open and you are allowed to take your child. Teachers have to go to work those days. I don’t agree with it, and even though I live within walking distance I keep my kids home.

  6. Yes, it should absolutely be on the parents to arrange suitable care after school themselves if they can’t pick the kids up at bell time.

  7. I agree that it is up to the parents or care giver to be there on time. Yes life happens and you are late,but not multiple times a week. Same goes gor the bus stop. Why should the bus have to wait for your children in the morning and again the end of day when again you do not show up!
    Yes the saying is it takes a village to raise a child but that foes not mean that the village has to do your job. Please be stop making appointments at 3 :00 out of town….there rant over.

  8. In our school, if the children don’t have a person to pick them up, or they make their own way to school, the child is informed that they go to the school office and wait for their adult. If by a certain time the adult hasn’t contacted the school, regarding being late, then the school calls the adult. Our school is dismissed at 2:55 and remains open with a senior staff member until 4:30-5pm. At our school we ensure every child has a safe place to go while waiting for their adult….the office.

  9. At our school if the children are not picked up by a certain time (i believe it’s 15 minutes after the bell) then they are sent to the afterschool daycare and the parents will be charged the daycare fee. If there are after school meetings the parents are expected to provide care for their children, even if it simply means the child sits in a chair outside the classroom. if they are in the playground they are on their own. the school will not provide a supervisor. i don’t have a problem with this. However, sometimes it is unavoidable that a child will be picked up late (i’m thinking medical emergency/an accident). If there were no daycare service to send the child to then i’m pretty sure one of the staff at our school would stay until the emergency contact could pick them up (my child once missed the bus because she thought i was picking her up and there was no issue even though she was there an extra 1/2 hour). Parents shouldn’t take advantage of this care though, yet at the same time school admin shouldn’t just leave children without care if they do not know why they are there.

  10. Parents are, but at the same time a policy change like that should have been communicated in every which way possible, and perhaps have a form for the parents to sign to show that they understood what was being said. The principal should have never have volun’told’ someone to watch the children who is not a member of staff at the school, even with volunteer clearance. Until the policy is clearly communicated those children should be brought into the office, parents called and asked to pick up.

  11. It’s absolutely on the parents. At my daughter’s school, kids aren’t “released” without their associated adult, unless the teacher is aware of other arrangements: some kids that live close are permitted to leave without an adult, or if you’ve said a different parent is taking your kid that day. It’s for safety: it’s so rare, but abductions happen. The situation you describe wouldn’t happen at our school, period.
    That being said, I agree with your “village” concept, but despise being put into a situation where the parent/caregiver is there and isn’t caring appropriately and I have to step in. A couple of examples: our school has a garden, mostly raised planters, and 2 kids, whose mom & dayhome lady were there, were literally standing/jumping *in* the garden (there were no plants yet). Another day, 2 little boys peeing in the bushes despite the community centre being open only a few steps away – nanny was watching, I sent mom a message & mom’s opinion on that was “when you gotta go, you gotta go.” True, but when there’s an appropriate bathroom only a little ways away, they should be using that, not peeing in the public park!!! This kind of stuff drives me nuts.

  12. To the person who said call the cops or children’s aid when a parent is late – that’s the least useful solution. Do you have any clue the cost of that! That’s a gross abuse of social services not to mention it takes s social worker away from a child who really might need her. I have seen that strategy used at schools and I have also discussed it with the CAS where I am a resource parent. It’s really wasteful and both the police and social services find it really ridiculous when schools do that. My child is bused so I have no issue here. If a parent is a few moments late people need to be a bit understanding. Ever consider that the very same thing could be happening with said parent – perhaps they are running their senior mom to a doctor’s appointment out of town where she lives and then racing home down the 401 to get to the school on time. Maybe their special needs child is having a raging meltdown at home and they are trying to contain it. Common sense and compassion on both sides goes a long way.

    • I totally agree and that was my concern. This is why I posted, I think many are unaware of what the school protacal is. Plus since I was concerned, you just never know if something comes up, I asked the principal directly and updated the post. Having four kids at different schools, living rural etc you never know when an appt or construction of worse will slow you down from getting there.

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