Sending chemicals home with students or allowing students to take laboratory chemicals home is a dangerous practice and is a lawsuit waiting to happen. Three possible scenarios are reviewed that will clarify the hazards and liability issues associated with this practice.
- A student wanted to perform some independent science experiments at home and asked the teacher for some chemicals. The teacher provided the chemicals along with warnings about the hazards. The student was injured when the experiment exploded. Resulting lawsuits and appeals found the teacher and school district liable. It was found that the teacher breached the duty of care because it was foreseeable that the student could be injured in the performance of an unauthorized experiment (Hutchison vs. Toews).1
- A third grade teacher conducted a crystal growing experiment using copper sulfate. The students were warned that the crystals were dangerous to eat. After the experiment was complete, the students were allowed to take the crystals (which looked like rock candy) home. On the bus ride home, a third grader gave a crystal to a second grader to eat. The second grader become violently ill and was hospitalized for several days with stomach burns. The parents of the second grader are seeking $5 million in damages from the school district.2
- Vinegar and sodium bicarbonate, typical household chemicals, were sent home with students so that they could perform simple experiments to determine the ratios that produce the most amount of gas. During the at-home experiment, vinegar splashed into the eye of a younger sibling watching the experiment. No long-term damage resulted, but the accident did require a visit to the emergency room.