School Climate & Safety

Portable Cafeteria Table Topples, Killing Phila. Boy

By Scott W. Wright — February 14, 2001 2 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

Philadelphia public school officials ordered the inspection of thousands of portable cafeteria tables last week, after one of the fold-up tables toppled over and crushed a 5-year-old boy.

Jonathan Cozzolino, a kindergartner at the 739-student Hamilton Disston Elementary School, died Feb. 1 of massive head trauma shortly after he was taken to a local hospital. District officials characterized the incident, which happened as the boy and his classmates were leaving the lunchroom, as a freak accident.

“This is a standard cafeteria folding table that exists in thousands of school across the country,” said Paul Hanson, a spokesman for the 208,000-student Philadelphia district. “We still don’t know why this particular table fell on this particular boy at this particular time.”

Federal safety records show that nine students have been killed and 18 others injured in U.S. schools since 1980 in accidents involving the portable cafeteria tables. They weigh up to 350 pounds, stand about 6 feet tall when folded, and stand on wheels so they can be easily moved.

“We’ve done a lot of work to get the word out about how dangerous these tables can be,” said Russ Rader, a spokesman for the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission in Bethesda, Md., which sent a representative to Philadelphia last week to investigate.

“It’s really important for school administrators to review how these tables are being handled,” Mr. Rader said, “and to make sure they are secured and that kids can’t be around them and play around them when [the tables] are just sitting there in a room.”

After receiving reports of several student deaths, the commission in 1989 launched a national campaign to warn every school district about the potential danger that the tables posed. It also secured manufacturers’ agreement to attach warning labels to the tables.

That campaign—and the warning labels—stressed that only adults, not students, should be allowed to move the rolling tables because of the tipover danger. Mr. Rader said the commission has now gone further.

“Our recommendation is that they should always be locked up and secured in some way when children are in the room,” he said. “They should not just be sitting out, folded up, when children are in the room because they are very top-heavy, and anything can happen in the blink of an eye.”

Out of Service

In Philadelphia, where school administrators estimate they use about 5,000 of the portable cafeteria tables, Philip Goldsmith, the district’s interim chief executive officer, ordered last week’s inspection. About 10 percent of the tables were taken out of service because of damage.

“We’re not sure whether the table that fell was damaged, but we are removing all damaged tables to prevent any possible recurrence of the accident,” Mr. Hanson said. “By damage, I mean everything from a damaged seat to a hydraulic mechanism that won’t allow the table to close properly.”

The kindergarten class was the only one in the lunchroom at the time of the accident at Disston Elementary. It was unclear how many students witnessed the incident. Mr. Hanson also declined to say how many adults were in the room at the time, but said there were some, including the cafeteria staff.

A version of this article appeared in the February 14, 2001 edition of Education Week as Portable Cafeteria Table Topples, Killing Phila. Boy

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
IT Infrastructure Webinar
A New Era In Connected Learning: Security, Accessibility and Affordability for a Future-Ready Classroom
Learn about Windows 11 SE and Surface Laptop SE. Enable students to unlock learning and develop new skills.
Content provided by Microsoft Surface
Classroom Technology K-12 Essentials Forum Making Technology Work Better in Schools
Join experts for a look at the steps schools are taking (or should take) to improve the use of technology in schools.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
The ABCs of ESSER: How to Make the Most of Relief Funds Before They Expire
Join a diverse group of K-12 experts to learn how to leverage federal funds before they expire and improve student learning environments.
Content provided by Johnson Controls

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

School Climate & Safety Responding to Student Threats: Schools Wrestle With How to Prevent Violence
The Buffalo shooting suspect made a threat at school last year, but wasn't flagged under the state's red flag law.
10 min read
A rifle hangs on display in the window of the West Endicott & Susquehanna Arms Co., Monday, May 16, 2022, where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased fire arms in Endicott, N.Y.
A rifle hangs on display in the window of an Endicott, N.Y., gun shop where the Buffalo shooting suspect purchased firearms.
Michael Hill/AP
School Climate & Safety Grief, Anger, Fear: How Teachers Can Help Students Cope With the Buffalo Shooting
After a gunman killed 10 people in a racist attack, teachers again wrestled with how to explain hate and mass violence to students.
A person pays his respects outside the scene of a shooting at a supermarket, in Buffalo, N.Y., Sunday, May 15, 2022.
A mourner pays his respects outside the scene of a racially-motivated mass shooting at a supermarket in Buffalo, N.Y.
Matt Rourke/AP
School Climate & Safety Accused Gunman in Buffalo Shooting Was Investigated for Threat to His School
The gunman was never charged with a crime and had no further contact with law enforcement after his release from a hospital, officials said.
3 min read
Police walk outside the Tops grocery store on Sunday, May 15, 2022, in Buffalo, N.Y. A white 18-year-old wearing military gear and livestreaming with a helmet camera opened fire with a rifle at the supermarket, killing and wounding people in what authorities described as “racially motivated violent extremism.” (AP Photo/Joshua Bessex)
School Climate & Safety Fla. School Board Reverses Decision to Censor Yearbook Photos From ‘Don’t Say Gay’ Protest
The Seminole County School Board scrapped the plan in response to public backlash.
Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel
2 min read
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla. Florida House Republicans advanced a bill, dubbed by opponents as the "Don't Say Gay" bill, to forbid discussions of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools, rejecting criticism from Democrats who said the proposal demonizes LGBTQ people.
Demonstrators gather on the steps of the Florida Historic Capitol Museum in front of the Florida State Capitol, Monday, March 7, 2022, in Tallahassee, Fla.
Wilfredo Lee/AP