Police pretend students killed to teach dangers of drunk driving

A uniformed police officer went to 20 classrooms El Camino High School in California on Monday and announced to students that several of their classmates had been killed over the weekend in alcohol-related car accidents.

He was lying, and he and the school continued to lie about it for two hours to the grief-stricken students. Why? To teach the kids an important lesson about the dangers of drunk driving.

I imagine the students learned another lesson -- that cops and authority figures are liars.

El Camino officials defended how they handled the exercise, saying it gave students the opportunity to experience real grief.

"They were traumatised, but we wanted them to be traumatised," guidance counsellor Lori Tauber reportedly said. "That's how they get the message."

From CNN's coverage of the story:
Michelle de Gracia, 16, was in physics class when an officer announced that her missing classmate David, a popular basketball player, had died instantly after being rear-ended by a drunken driver. She said she felt nauseated but was too stunned to cry.
Link (Thanks marilyn terrell!) (via Arbroath)


  1. They did this at my high school – Something similar anyways. I’m pretty sure we all knew it wasn’t real, though.

  2. i wonder if the school administrators were arrested development fans… “and that’s why you don’t drive drunk!”

  3. Call me crazy, but I’m pretty sure this is the wrong way to go about teaching them a lesson.

  4. If a child of mine came home with a tale like this, I’m pretty certain I wouldn’t react well at all. In fact, I’d pro’ly do something regretable out of blind, seething rage. I wish I were more amazed at fear being used as a didactic instrument, but it seems to be the order of our times.

    This is infuriating and incredibly depressing.

  5. Yeah, that definitely would have taught me that cops and administration were manipulative liars. I pretty much figured that anyway, and I was one of the “good kids” in high school.

    The working world contains some crappy people, but it’s still significantly better than just expecting, as a matter of course, to be manipulated, lied to, threatened, and arbitrarily punished on a daily basis by the people who have authority over you — and that’s pretty much high school.

  6. Does anyone remember about a year ago when counselors on a school outing trip faked a crazed gunman trying to get into the classroom?

    “In case anyone missed it, in Murfreesboro, Tennesee a group of middle-school children on a class trip were suddenly terrorized by their teachers subjected to a “learning experience:” they were told that a gunman was attempting to attack them, that it was “not a drill” and spent the next five minutes believing that a crazed killer was rattling the doors trying to get at them as they hid under tables, crying and pleading for their lives.”

    There’s some irony in that any student who even writes an English paper about violence or death is called into the office, if not suspended.

  7. Having actually known someone who was killed by a drunk driver when I was in middle school, and I didn’t even much like him, I can attest that this is truly traumatic. Not like, “Oh my god, my boyfriend is cheating on me” fake teenage trauma, but real adult emotional distress.

    This is flat out child abuse. Even with the best of intentions, you don’t ever have the right to inflect serious emotional distress on someone else by lying. The principal really deserves an immediate dismissal for this kind of thing.

    There’s an expectation that we send our students to public schools, and the staff is committed to keeping them safe from harm. Not casually inflicting it for “their own good”.

  8. It has been said that children no longer respect their elders. Children see no wisdom in an adult who is unable to set the time on a VCR. And this is further proof. Lying to children will not teach them. Cognitive abuse will only strengthen their boundaries. This same excercise took place in my high school, fifteen years ago. And yes, some of the students knew it was fake…and disreguarded the authority figure, their message, and their failing ethos. Others, like me, became very distraught receiving the message that another friend had died due to the plauge of drunk driving. Once the lie was uncovered, we became highly restless and outspoken. The message was lost, and our anger then fueled further debate about false authority and the disrespect of children, honesty, and integrity. Kids are much more socially adept than they are given credit for, and these misdirections are amunition for further disregard and disrespect. Using abusive behaviorist methodologies will not educate the young. perhaps we should try ‘open and honest communication’. while I’ve never seen that used, it might just work!

  9. (P.S. It should be noted that I had some truly fantastic teachers, so I’m well aware that not all high school teachers or administrators are like that. Interestingly, the fantastic teachers were the ones who told us that they thought the manipulation was B.S. too. They were there to teach us, not police us. Treating us like adults had the utterly bizarre effect of eliciting mostly adult behavior.)

  10. Someone needs to sit that Police Department’s legal counsel down and explain the terms ACTIONABLE TORT OF INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS to them, in very slow, very small words, before they disbar them.


  11. Oddly, this makes me want to get shitfaced and plow my car into Police & School Administrators potluck.

  12. Well, the real take-home lesson of the day: don’t trust your teachers. That is a worthwhile lesson too.

    For the record, I was once a high school teacher and think this is unconscionable.

  13. Role Reversal Test:

    If a group of students had somehow:
    Isolated the school councelor and convinced her that one of her colleagues had been killed.
    When caught in a lie, laughed it off as a “learning experience”.

    Would the students:
    A. Be lauded by the staff for bringing real traumatic grief awareness to someone in a position to need it?
    B. Be arrested for the traumatic assault they had committed?

  14. #9 Hear, hear, amen, and huzzah.

    My dad spun a blatant lie once ‘for my own good’ on something far more minor and my trust in him is still marred.

  15. If the opposite occurred, and a student falsely claimed a teacher had died…I’m sure newly enacted “hoax obituary” ordinances would come into play.

  16. I’d be more interested to track how many kids use this to add to the already full larder of ‘teen agnst’ to say that everything adults say is a lie – and use this to enable even worse behavior than before.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if a kid who otherwise couldn’t afford a lawyer decided to see if Arson was a proper editorial response against the school. Sounds nutty – but so are most school shootings by kids on the edge with limited or lacking perspective.

    You want to help push that along? Good for you! I’ll watch the results on the evening news and keep score for ya.

  17. The students really should sue. And they should always address that cop and the others who participated in it as “Liar” whenever they interact with them from now on.

    Wait, I suppose it should be “Officer Liar” and “Mr./Ms. Liar.” Can’t be disrespectful, or they’ll be expelled.

    Scumbags like this should be publically flogged.

  18. My high school did the every 15 minutes program (based on the every 15 minutes someone is killed by a drunk driver) but the students were not duped into believing it was real. A student was pulled out of class every 15 minutes by some guy in a grim reaper costume and their obituaries were read. There was also a fake car crash staged and everyone watched as four of our classmates were pulled from the wreckage (2 of them “died” and one was arrested).
    Everyone knew it was fake and it was still very frightning to watch and I think it did make an impact on a lot of us.
    Taking it to the level of actually deceving the kids is cruel and unecessary and draws the discussion away from the topic at hand. How many of us are talking about the dangers of drunk driving after this? no one- we’re all too busy concentrating on the deception involved. They just undermined their own efforts to teach the kids something.
    It’s too bad that this was so poorly executed because I think the program can be really effective if the students are given all the information.

  19. “They were traumatised, but we wanted them to be traumatised,”

    Right there, you’re fired. And in a sane world, jailed.

    This exercise teaches children the valuable lesson to not trust anything adults tell them. It teaches paranoia and irrational fear. It teaches children that the best way to instruct someone is to terrorize them.

    Yes, drunk-driving is awful, a tragic consequence of bad decision-making. Why not focus on making better decisions in the first place?

    My parents took the logical tact. If I had been drinking I could call them and get a ride, anytime, anyplace, they’d arrange it. No yelling, no screaming, just a ride home and we’d talk in the morning. Talk, not scream or fight or argue. I availed myself of this twice in my teen years. Before my mother died she said it made her realize she’d raised me right that I knew it was better to have an awkward morning talk with her than to get behind the wheel drunk or let someone else drunk drive me.

    Sorry for the lengthy anecdote. This kind of nonsense gets my Irish up.

  20. That should be a career ending move for anyone who was involved or who signed off on it. Period. If I were a parent of someone at that school, I’d want them out of the school now. Not tomorrow. Not at the end of the school day. Now. There’s probably some way those responsible can avoid prosecution, but they should be immediately thrown out of the education and law enforcement fields, should all be sued and should have no contact with kids.

    A less law-abiding, more nasty person than I might consider “pranks” that bring home to those responsible the real meaning of grief. It would not surprise me if those responsible started getting calls like “your child is dead.”

  21. Jeebus, there is a real world out there, and we need to protect kids from it as much as possible.

    They should never, EVER be subjected to misery or deprivation, much less misinformed on the chance something will go wrong with our precious li’l bundles of joy.

    Above and beyond incarcerating and chemically castrating the goons who damaged our little ones, we should cocoon our babies in little bubbles so as to spare any more possible harm.

    Plus, outlaw bad words, the genetic code of bullies, food that is past its sell-by-date, etc.



    once upon a time, kids were viewed as miniature adults. sometime in the late 1800s, childhood got romanticized, and ever since then, it’s been degrading their minds into mush.

    This was a pretty ham-handed stunt.

    But, you know — learning to deal with the harshness of the universe (YOUR MEAT COMES FROM BIG EYED SOFT-SKINNED COWS; YOUR PARENTS “DO IT”) takes some harsh shocks, sometime.

    Schools these days do not have enough of it.

  22. Our culture is increasingly becoming a “the ends justify the means” culture. I don’t believe that there’s a snowball’s chance in hell that this is the most effective way of teaching kids the perils of drunk driving, and I hope that should I ever have children that the teachers and school administrators that are in charge of them have more sense than the ones from this report.

    Also, score one for #2 JMAN3335 for the Arrested Development reference.

  23. They just did this at my former high school. Apparently they had a fairly elaborate story worked out in which one student was the “drunk driver” and a few students were the “victims.” The victims actually had to GO TO THE MORGUE. And the drunk driver had to GO TO JAIL. Or at least go get booked at the police station. They had the full cooperation of the local police who came into the kid’s class and “arrested” him. To top it all off, they apparently had a mock funeral at the school a couple days later. This included eulogy’s from the parents of the victims.

  24. This is just a shabby way to treat people…and it teaches the wrong message.
    At #28: I don’t think anyone on this board is trying to mollycoddle the children…We understand that they wanted the kids to learn the dangers of drunk driving. However, needlessly creating anguish and then say aren’t you glad that wasn’t real merely causes the kids to distrust their elders. It was foolish in the extreme and possibly criminally negligent.

    I too think that reverse stunt should be pulled by the kids and their parents…kind of a mass protest in which a majority of students call and say they have lost a loved one and don’t come in on the same day.


  25. They did this at my school every year. Because it was something of a tradition though, no one actually thought it was happening. We were all in on it; there was no deception going on.

  26. Awhile back I wrote about the “Every 15” minutes anti-drunk driving project that’s done in the Bay Area here in California with the help of volunteers from Industrial Light & Magic.

    The special event for the participating schools lasts over two days. On the first day, pre-selected kids are pulled from their classrooms every 15 minutes — the namesake of the program which is the statistical average of an accident involving DUIs. Their obituaries are read and they are sequestered from the rest of the school. These 15-20 students are referred to as “The Living Dead.” Around noon an accident is staged in front of the entire student body. The event plays live with emergency teams comprised of the local police, highway patrol and fire departments responding. Those teams use the accident as a drill, pulling the kids from the wreck and arresting the “drunk” driver. “Injured kids” are then transported via ambulance and helicopter to the local hospital, and the “dead” kid is taken to a local mortuary.

    More here:

  27. But Gruben, were you all fooled? Did they actually make you believe your friends were really dead?

  28. Sarcasm aside, learning that authority figures can lie so brazenly and so harmfully — it really is a valuable lesson.

    God, I hate schools.

  29. Please pardon my appostrophic French, but…





    Don’t cry wolf.
    Don’t lie to the cops.
    They’ll be the ones lying to you.





  30. The most screwed up thing about this is that the story told was that their friends were hit BY a drunk driver. So it wasn’t even something that was preventable by not drinking and driving.

    The lesson? Don’t be killed by a drunk driver.

    They might as well have taken them aside one by one and told them that their mothers had been raped and murdered to demonstrate the dangers involved in being raped and murdered.

  31. I think any type of “staged” act/teaching like this is going to do more damage than good, especially when dealing with teenagers. I am all for “shock” reality, but it needs to be real. If you want them to see the real consequences of drunk driving, guns, gangs, violence what ever take them down to the morgue or jail. Let them experience it, see it, feel it first hand. That will do more than any fake funeral or lying cop.

    Teenagers do not readily trust adults, and a lot of that stems from the social/cultural disconnect that adults develop along the way. I’ve been out of high school a little over a decade and I am sure it isn’t even close to the way it was. Making up disturbing stories and scaring them is not a way to get them to trust you.

    Adults…I’m glad I’m not one of them (yet….)

  32. The Other Michael,

    Please tell me that you don’t have children. Because you’re an abuser. Deal with your rage.

  33. surely by that age parents have taught their children to smile, nod, agree and keep their own counsel? I mean, you teach your kids to stay out of trouble, doesn’t that include not competely trusting the schooling system?

  34. Well, this program is doing more to foster mistrust of authority than almost anything else I can think of, so kudos to this program!

    It’s good to learn this lesson as early as possible so that later they don’t make poor life choices such as calling the police for assistance. Keep up the good work, guys.

    Putting more effort and funding into teaching good basic driving skills simply doesn’t impart this kind of important awareness of reality. The accidents several of my friends’ kids have had were all due to really stupid maneuvers performed while totally sober, though half involved talking on a cellphone.

    I’ve believed for years that American public schools are no place for children, mostly based on my own experience. It keeps getting confirmed, year after year.

    Remember, kids: There’s no situation so bad that calling the police can’t make it worse.

  35. During my four years of highschool

    One of my friends ate a shot gun
    One wrecked a four wheeler and broke his neck
    One overdosed while huffing butane
    One drown and
    One was crushed in a logging accident.

    We only had a graduating class of 90.

    I don’t think I would have found this tactic amusing or helpful. When nearly 5% of your graduating class dies before getting their cap and gown shit like this adds insult to injury.

  36. Teens are known to over-react to emotional situations (at least I did). This school district is fortunate that no subsequent suicides ensued after students learned that their dear friends had been killed in such a thoughtless manner.

    You would NEVER do this to an adult, why pull such a devastating prank on kids?!?!?

    This is just a cruel and thoughtless action on the part of the school administrators.


  37. Luke 6:31 – Do to others as you would have them do to you.

    Perhaps the school administrators suffer from mind-blindness and is unable to put themselves into the shoes of the kids they care for. When you lack empathy, things like this happen.

    What about counsellor Lori Tauber, who admits the kids were traumatised, and says that’s good because she WANTS to traumatise them? She too should seek a career change, to a field more suitable to here aptitute. One that does not involve working with children.

  38. This is one of the worst abuses of authority, and my personal bugbear.

    Lying in service to a good cause is even worse than lying for personal gain, because the liar might actually believe he is justified, and that makes him very, very dangerous.

    At the risk of invoking Godwin’s Law, this behaviour lies at the root of many of the worst events in human history.

  39. Is teaching kids about drunk driving really a necessary part of their high school curriculum?

  40. They did this at my school in 2001. They actually have the kids stay at home from school that day so people already wondered about where they were.
    After they told everyone what was up, then they had the kids come in ghost make up the next day and they weren’t allowed to talk to anyone. The same day, they also brought a totaled car and parked it on the school lawn.

    I had enough people at my school actually die to know it was fake. When people really died you found out by gossip and eventually the administrators would announce it over the intercom and ask for a minute of silence.

    Funny how much more impersonal it was when someone ACTUALLY died.

  41. Ugh. That’s awful. I’d be infuriated.

    Speaking from a teenager’s perspective; this had the potential to become very bad, very quickly. It sounds unreasonable- but what if some student had killed him/herself, hearing that their boy/girl/best friend kicked the bucket?

    It sounds unreasonable, but it isn’t.

    Teenagers are emotional creatures who do not make decisions like adults.

    Furthermore, there’s no way that the administrators could have been certain that the ‘victims’ were not near and dear to somebody who very much needs that person. Someone could have been in severe emotional distress that was only compounded by the lie, and such a thing could have dramatic consequences. Not to mention those with emotional problems, depressive disorders, etcetera, who will be haunted by this for ages.

    You don’t even have to really have emotional problems to be scared as hell when you think someone’s died. I’ve lost a few people, and personally, it’s always worse when it’s an accident, and it’s someone my age. Not simply because of grief, but- oh my GOD, I’m mortal, that could happen to ME. Sort of realizations.

    I’ve experienced two near-deaths in the past two years. One was injury from heat stroke, my friend Mason. Me and Pyro took turns carrying him back to school, yelling at the other kids that had been working out with us to go get water, trying to keep him breathing, trying to cool his core temperature down, and for a moment we’d thought we lost him.

    Then, it was Pyro, who had an allergic reaction compounded by a strange disease called “Fisk’s”, which is basically an immunodeficiency which allows the body to fight itself rather than the allergen. He ‘died’ at a school dance, on the bench in front of the building, and was resuscitated by paramedics.

    If someone had staged an event to elicit those emotional responses in me, I’d be pretty pissed. I’d probably press charges and sue- not because money’s gonna make it better, but because this kind of thing needs to be known as a crime, with consequences.

  42. Clearly, there is only one way the officers will understand what they’ve done wrong:

    Someone needs to explain to their spouses that they’ve been shot in the line of duty following transmitting fraudulent testimony, or inform their department that one of their fellow officers was killed in a like incident.

    “Lets see how you like it Mister Smartypants” doesn’t seem so ‘tough love’ when it is on the other foot.

  43. Yes, SADD did this at my high school every year too. Every hour they would announce a new “death” on the PA. The grim reaper would come and take the kid away. The dead person changed into a black robe and painted their faces white. They couldn’t talk the rest of the day, either. One time they even “killed” my teacher in the middle of class.

    Obviously, we understood what was going on, but that first announcement freshman year was pretty shocking. It’s a little macabre (and dramatic!), but it sure did send a powerful message. The students planned the whole thing, too.

  44. When I was in 7th grade eleven high school kids did die in a series of accidents. Rather small town.

    I think what those officers did is disgraceful, and that Superintendent needs to be replaced.

  45. They did same thing when I was in high school. A couple kids stayed home and the cops told us they were dead. I was absolutely devastated. Sick to my stomach. A few hours later the ‘deceased’ came to school in the white make-up.

    I am now an anarchist.

  46. either boingboing is having issues or ff3 is so apologies if this ends up as a double post:

    According to the version of the article on cnn: http://www.cnn.com/2008/US/06/12/drunken.driving.ap/index.html

    Michelle de Gracia, 16, was in physics class when an officer announced that her missing classmate David, a popular basketball player, had died instantly after being rear-ended by a drunken driver.

    I wonder if all the rest were also said to be victims of drunk drivers rather than being drunk themselves? Because in this situation what is there to learn? Because “David” wasn’t the one drinking the students don’t really learn not to drink and drive.

    No it seems that in this situation they are being taught that you can be in an accident and killed at any time and there is nothing you can do about it. Way to empower your students and not create a culture of fear. They can’t even teach their anti-drunk driving lesson correctly. That’s good teachering there…

  47. The variant on this that was done at my school involved staging a gory car wreck just outside the front door, then announcing it as fact over the PA with a stern caution to remain inside and not go gawk at it – the thinking being that we’d do just the opposite. However, all but two or three kids stayed inside. I guess we were all decent-mannered Canucks with no desire to rubberneck at someone else’s pain.

  48. truly appalling. and people in authority wonder why so many don’t believe them when they tell us poor bleeting sheeple that drugs are bad, mmmkay. and that the police are there to help us and protect us. and if we ever have a problem we should consult the clergy. these sumbitches should be publically flogged! 50 lashes, i say!

  49. My senior year of high school, a guy from my circle of friends was killed by a drunk driver in early May.

    Throughout most of the year, another friend of mine had been posting all kinds of illicit posters around the school featuring Bill the Cat. (that’ll date me…) Bill ran for class president, commented on various events, etc.

    So I put together a big banner using that mid-80s “banner making” software, drew a picture of Bill with a martini glass saying “ack”, with the the message “Bill sez don’t drink and drive.” (My friend who was killed was also named Bill). It went up very early one day during the week before prom.

    It promptly disappeared during first period. Then, conveniently enough, they devoted time during the announcements in homeroom to the same theme. And then the poster went back up.

    So yep, the school staff had hijacked our guerrilla awareness-raising campaign. Given what an enormous knob the principal was, I was pretty angry about it. It would have meant a lot more coming from us, not as some kind of school-sponsored thing.

  50. “9-1-1, Police, Fire or Ambulance?”

    “Police, there are armed gunmen entering my highschool. We need the SWAT team here now!”

    30 mins later…

    “Hi, that 9-1-1 report, that was just to test your reaction time and response strategies to school schooling emergencies. I hope this drill has helped you learn something and improve your tactics”

  51. then again, having stupid administrators,counselors and teachers (well, maybe not ALL) gives kids a chance to grow confidence on defeatable foes.

  52. This should help kids to have longer than usual periods of denial in the future when they eventually have a loved one die (really die, not make-believe die). Is this person telling me the truth about my cousin getting killed, or is it another lying authority figure?

    I’ll be listening for this school system on “The Apologies of the Week” on Harry Shearer’s radio show next week.

  53. Well, Newsvine had a comment section up, but I can’t find it now. I used some of the ideas from this comment thread in my comment there:

    I think this is monstrous and possibly actionable. I am not a lawyer, but I think the term is ACTIONABLE TORT OF INTENTIONAL INFLICTION OF EMOTIONAL DISTRESS. Every one of those kids, and all their parents, should talk to a lawyer about this and consider suing the school district and the counselor and the cop over it.

    They didn’t even teach the lesson they wanted to teach! The students were told that their classmates were killed BY a drunk driver…so apparently the lesson is “don’t drive where some jerk might be drunk” — that is, anywhere, anytime. Certainly they learned “don’t trust the police or your teachers and especially not your school guidance counselor.”

    That guidance counselor needs to find another line of work: one that doesn’t involve ever seeing or dealing with anyone under the age of 25. I wonder how she’d feel if someone called her and told her her child was killed in an accident?

    Also, what if someone were to call that cop’s wife while he’s at work and tell her he was killed in the line of duty? Then when he came home, she would have been taught a lesson about how bad it is to be the secondary victim of a crime. SHE doesn’t deserve that, but HE does: that’s the lesson he was teaching those kids.

    Lastly, news of this spread rapidly by phone and text. What would they be saying now if some kid who wasn’t at the school but who was close to the edge was pushed over it by this devastating news, and harmed him/herself or others as a result?

    This is the sort of thing you just don’t do, if you have a decent bone in your body. Anyone who doesn’t, shouldn’t be allowed to teach teenagers. Everyone involved in this abusive (and I mean that in the strongest sense) hoax should be fired and barred from ever working in education again.

  54. I’m surprised this made the news given this type of program has been up and running in California since at least the year 2000 (when my high school senior class experienced it). The event was followed by a “mock funeral” in which the parents of the students gave eulogies. As I recall it only took a few minutes for people to realize it was a stunt, mostly because the students had supposedly been killed “over the weekend” which most people knew would have made the morning paper.

    No one should be removed from their jobs if you ask me. *shrug* It’s a well known program and I find it highly unlikely the vast majority of the students didn’t realize what it was from the start.

  55. ConsiderPants, you’re confused. The Every 15 Minutes program is the well-known one; that involves no actual hoaxing of the students. The one in your school took only a few minutes to be revealed as a stunt: in this one, they took precautions to make sure the students were suffering this trauma for hours. If you “find it highly unlikely the majority of the students didn’t realize what it was from the start,” you didn’t read the article.

    I would advocate removing the perps from their jobs. I WANT them to be flogged into bloody insensibility.

  56. I agree with all the shock and outrage expressed here, really can’t add more.

    But…couldn’t all the time and energy that went into putting this stunt together have been used to, I don’t know, TEACH THE KIDS THEIR ACADEMICS?

    It’s homeschooling for our kids, fer sure.

  57. You want kids to not drink and drive? Get them a copy of GTA IV. Then get them to go drinking (in the game) and try to drive home (in the game).

    It’s spot on (I assume. I haven’t actually tried drunk driving in real life, but if GTA’s drunk driving is as realistic as its drunk walking…).

  58. #28 ( the Other Michael )

    You miss the point. This is ALL about treating teenagers like adults. If you did the EXACT same thing to an adult, youcould be sued, or potentially arrested.

    It is *only* because they were kids that they thought this was okay.

    So yes, by all means – treat them like adults!

  59. When I was in middle school, 6th grade, we had a health program for a week every month instead of gym. One week we did drinking/drunk driving, and I’m going to be honest with you. That class only convinced me that I was not going to survive to be an adult. Every day I was terrified, knowing I would turn into a faceless, nameless number in a statistic. All that I “learned” from that session was that I was going to die in an unpreventable accident.

    This was 6th grade, she was preaching to 12 and 11 year olds about not drinking and driving.

  60. How utterly stupid. These people MUST lose their jobs, and the “counselor” in particular should not be allowed to work with children. How shocking and sad.

  61. It wasn’t executed very well, but I respect their intent. No one needs to be lynched or beat, and I don’t think people need to lose their jobs. The way people treat accountability amazes me, like they forget their own humanity. Yes, it was ham-fisted, I think they were trying to copy similar programs, but didn’t think it through. I’m sure with the ample forthcoming feedback, they’ll work on it for the next year, but the cause isn’t a waste of time. I know it seems an odd way to teach if you say so-and-so was killed by a drunk driver instead of causing it, but the lesson is in knowing, feeling, and living the ramifications, and hopefully influencing your actions as an adult or underage drinker. It all seems like boring pamphlet material unless you can really make it hit home. The kids will hate them in the short run, but if they can manage to revisit the emotions they felt during their trauma, then it wasn’t all for naught.

  62. So, what legal recourse is available to the students? Like, the students themselves, not through their parents as proxies. Because I kind of think this needs the youths acting for themselves to have an effect.

    This is everything wrong with nanny state policies.

    What would have been more effective is teaching sane policies about drinking in a non-traumatic way. Like, don’t drink and drive, but if you drink, stay where you are til you’re sober or get someone else to drive you. Nothing shocking, but it’d show support instead of malicious intent

  63. Are you married, Tainted Pete? Got kids? Got brothers, sisters, parents, friends?

    Well, THEY’RE DEAD.

    No, they’re not, just teaching you a lesson. Now that meant nothing, because you didn’t (for example) get called to the hospital for (say) your daughter, to be told by a man in a white coat “I’m sorry, Mr. Tainted, we did everything we could, but her injuries were too severe…” and then KEPT THINKING THAT FOR TWO HOURS before they finally admitted that no, your daughter wasn’t hurt at all, and they were just hoaxing you to teach you what it means to grieve for a loved one.

    You would probably sue, and you would certainly want to blood-eagle the fucking doctor.

    This is the point that defenders of this vile outrage keep missing: if it’s wrong to do it to an adult (and it is, it’s a tort: see above), it’s wrong to do it to kids, perhaps even more wrong.

    And say what you will, but any counselor who can say of a group of teenagers “we wanted them to be traumatized” should be kicked out of the profession. If she keeps her job, those students should call her “Lying Lori” for the rest of her career, and pass it down to incoming freshmen to facilitate that.

  64. Wow. That’s definitely a case for negligent infliction of emotional distress, and given that the counselor said they intended to traumatize the kids, could probably make intentional infliction of emotional distress.

  65. Wow, that was MY high school! That’s really unconscionable — I hope parents are planning a great big lawsuit for trauma and damages, and maybe the missing students can sue for defamation of character. Wouldn’t want to miss a day and come back to find that my friends thought a) I was dead, and b) everyone thought I was a flaming drunk who killed people with his car!

    “Hey, Betsy, wanna catch a movie this weekend? I’ll pick you up Saturday night!”

    “Um, aren’t you dead? Didn’t you kill a busload of orphans with your reckless drunken driving?”

  66. So, unfortunately next time these kids are faced with a death of a close one, they will have that hope that it is a hoax in the back of their mind. I’m pretty sure this will disrupt the grieving process. That may cause some psychological issues. I really feel bad for these kids.

  67. I’m all for teaching kids the dangers of drunk driving or any other moral message but this went down completely the wrong way. I hope some parents get together and file a class action lawsuit. Whatever trust these kids had for teachers and police is most likely broken by their actions to inflict emotional grief to teach them a preemptive lesson.

    The comment in #17 is so dead on. If a group of students had convinced a teacher or police officer that a member of their family or a friend had just been killed in a drunk driving accident once they found out it was a lie the kids would have been arrested and charged for something.

    I can’t believe no one in a position of authority felt like saying, “Uh hey guys? I’m not so sure this is the best way to go about this. It seems a bit stupid and mean.” Where were their brains?

  68. We all face grief in our own way and in our own time. No one has the right to force it upon us based on a whim.

  69. My mother was a teacher, and used to teach pre-schoolers their colors wrong, as in Red=Yellow and Green=Blue. Years later, grown men and women would still come up to her and go, “HEY! You’re the lady who taught me my colors wrong!” Her lesson clearly made a lasting impression.

    I think that’s a much better way to teach the lesson that knowledge should always be questioned.

    And I think she’d agree, this was a horrific way to communicate this particular lesson.

  70. Cavalaxis, did your mother ever explain to you why she did such a crazy and harmful (though plainly not as harmful as this) thing? Those poor kids! No wonder they remembered her.

    Was she actually trying to teach them not to trust adults? Isn’t preschool way too young for that lesson? Preschoolers need to trust adults in order to feel safe. Some kids who are exposed to the wrong kind of untrustworthy adult never do learn to trust OR feel safe, throughout life. (No, I don’t think your mother inflicted that kind of trauma.)

    I remember my father lying to me (he thought he was being sarcastic, I’m sure, but 4-year-olds don’t get sarcasm) about a particular mathematical concept (having to do with even and odd numbers), that I believed him, and that I was embarrassed and humiliated when I learned the truth.

    I’m trying to figure out what was inside your mother’s head that made her think that was a good idea.

  71. Or maybe I’m just being a total freak. I think lying to kids is just horribly, horribly wrong. In fact I’m probably not completely rational on this topic. I was lied to as a child, to my great detriment, by adults who thought it was funny to play cruel jokes on a little kid. I’m not completely over it.

    When someone tells a comforting lie to a child, it makes me a little angry. When someone tells a deliberately upsetting (then or later) lie to a child, I really, really want to hurt them. As in, beat them insensible with a hot poker or something. That’s excessive, I know: I must not be allowed to decide the punishment for such people.

    But I do believe, quite rationally, that such people should be punished. Ditto ones who tell similar lies to teenagers, like the ones in this story.

  72. “I imagine the students learned another lesson — that cops and authority figures are liars.”

    Um, how about statements like “[…]we don’t want the smoking gun to be a mushroom cloud.” or “We do not torture.”?

    One would think that these young men and women unfortunately already knew that “authority figures are liars”.

  73. I’m not entirely without sympathy for those who think this was well-intentioned but misguided. I spoke to my mom on the phone last night right after I had posted (I grew up in Oceanside and she is interested in news from there). When I explained to her how shocked I was, she expressed much the same sentiment as #74, Tainted Pete, did.
    But she’s from the generation that learned not to beat their children. So I changed the subject.

  74. My parents thought it hilarious to reinforce any pronunciation or grammar mistakes I make before the age of five… back fired when I had to take remedial classes and have a speech therapist. Good times!

    [Luckily, I got in on the joke with my younger sister and definitions. To this day, she looks on in horror when I mention something or other she still gets wrong (blue balls=old ladies dying their hair blue… classic!) It’s great for taking her down a notch when her I’m in college now, that makes me a responsible adult gland kicks in.]

    As for this little lie, I’m all for it! They just found a way to pay college tuition for their entire graduating class!

  75. Oh, I’m also proud of Arbor Day = a day of remembrance for those killed in the attack on Pearl Harbor.

  76. Well, the actual students who had to go through this did show remarkable restraint:

    Their grief turned to fury when they learned they had been duped.

    Some students made posters declaring: “Death is real. Don’t play with our emotions”, while a number of parents also complained to the education department.

    Posters? No fires? Broken glass? Overturned desks even? Such good citizens they’ll be!

    Anyway, who knew the kids would call their friends so fast? It was only a measly 26 students that had been killed in a single high school over the weekend. Never mind that if true it would’ve been one of the worst school-related disasters in American history. Faking something like that is a literal act of terrorism. (why do we hate kids for their freedom?!?)

    The school had counsellors on standby to calm the students, however they did not anticipate the power of mobile phones to spread the bad news.

    Wonder if “bad news” referred to the ‘deaths’ or the realization it was time to open up a can of Children of the Corn and dump it on the administration? Oh, I forgot. Posters. Right.

  77. Two things came up today when I was talking about this with someone: I wonder if anyone is going to help these kids sue the school? Is there an “El Camino Outrage Legal Offense Fund” or anything? I’d throw a few bucks their way if so.

    The other thing I thought of: any kid who was victimized by this, and who finds out their parents knew in advance, should just not come home from school one day, and not call, or answer the phone if their parents call looking for them.

    Then, about 8:00 at night, they should have a friend call their parents crying: “You need to come to the hospital right away!” After the parents leave, the kid should go home, and when the parents get back: “Oh, just teaching you a lesson.”

  78. That reminds me of the South Park episode where the parents get the children infected with chicken pox, so the children arrange for all the parents to get herpes. All’s fair in love and childhood.

  79. open up a can of Children of the Corn

    That made me laugh uproariously, I’m not sure why… it may be because it’s tremendously funny.

  80. What, Antinous, you think my lesson is as out of proportion? Why? Unbearable grief is unbearable grief. Chicken pox is not equivalent to herpes.

  81. Oh, no. I completely supported those Menendez kids. And not just because I wanted a threesome.

  82. You don’t think the kids would be justified in hoaxing their parents in return. I can tell. Just waiting for you to explain WHY it’s out of proportion. I don’t think it is (actually I wouldn’t support it because an eye for an eye leaves the whole world blind, but that doesn’t mean it would be out of proportion, just that it’s a bad idea).

  83. Parents often care more about the degree to which their children will promote the parents’ interests than about the children’s interests (as predicted by evobio theory). They’re totally willing to do things that make their children unhappy and fearful, as long as it promotes their own interests (like long life, earning capacity of the child, parents’ choice of college major or mate for the child, etc.). What’s surprising is when stuff like this is perpetrated against children by non-relatives – though I guess in this case they’re promoting societal values at the expense of the children’s happiness, as opposed to promoting parental values at the expense of the children’s happiness.

  84. Ask a hundred parents why they have children. How many would have an answer that wasn’t narcissistic?

  85. Exactly.

    ‘I thought having children would make me happy, but I’m no happier than I was before; I’m just happy in a different way,’ says Polly. ‘My delight in having a son is tempered by feelings of guilt, anger, fear and resentment.’ (from The Guardian)


  86. People who are happy are happy with kids, people who are miserable etc…

    and Antinous, re: “How many would have an answer that wasn’t narcissistic?” Would you accept biological imperative?

  87. Would you accept biological imperative?

    Depends. Is it a euphemism for ‘too drunk to put on a condom’?

  88. @109
    Internet prize for most hilarious Spam Fail.
    Please leave this up for comic purposes!

  89. Antinous 102: It’s interesting. I was talking about human reproductive cloning with a friend some years ago, and she said she hadn’t heard any reason for wanting to clone a person that respects the individuality of the resulting child.

    I said “Have you heard any reason for wanting to have children that respects the individuality of the child?”

    She had no answer.

  90. “Have you heard any reason for wanting to have children that respects the individuality of the child?”

    In the brief moments of insanity when I flirted with the idea of adopting a child, my motive was to give them a happier childhood than mine. Benevolent as that sounds, it’s still about healing my wounds.

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