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

School Climate & Safety K-12 Essentials Forum Strengthen Students’ Connections to School
Join this free event to learn how schools are creating the space for students to form strong bonds with each other and trusted adults.
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 & Management Webinar
Future-Proofing Your School's Tech Ecosystem: Strategies for Asset Tracking, Sustainability, and Budget Optimization
Gain actionable insights into effective asset management, budget optimization, and sustainable IT practices.
Content provided by Follett Learning
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
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning

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 Another State Will Let Teachers Carry Guns. What We Know About the Strategy
Tennessee lawmakers passed a bill allowing teachers to carry guns with administrators' permission a year after the Covenant School shooting.
5 min read
People protest outside the House chamber after legislation passed that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
People protest outside the House chamber after legislation passed that would allow some teachers to be armed in schools during a legislative session on April 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. Tennessee could join more than 30 other states in allowing certain teachers to carry guns on campus. There's virtually no research on the strategy's effectiveness, and it remains uncommon despite the proliferation of state laws allowing it.
George Walker IV/AP
School Climate & Safety Video WATCH: Columbine Author on Myths, Lessons, and Warning Signs of Violence
David Cullen discusses how educators still grapple with painful lessons from the 1999 shooting.
1 min read
School Climate & Safety From Our Research Center How Much Educators Say They Use Suspensions, Expulsions, and Restorative Justice
With student behavior a top concern among educators now, a new survey points to many schools using less exclusionary discipline.
4 min read
Audrey Wright, right, quizzes fellow members of the Peace Warriors group at Chicago's North Lawndale College Prep High School on Thursday, April 19, 2018. Wright, who is a junior and the group's current president, was asking the students, from left, freshmen Otto Lewellyn III and Simone Johnson and sophomore Nia Bell, about a symbol used in the group's training on conflict resolution and team building. The students also must memorize and regularly recite the Rev. Martin Luther King's "Six Principles of Nonviolence."
A group of students at Chicago's North Lawndale College Prep High School participates in a training on conflict resolution and team building on Thursday, April 19, 2018. Nearly half of educators in a recent EdWeek Research Center survey said their schools are using restorative justice more now than they did five years ago.
Martha Irvine/AP
School Climate & Safety 25 Years After Columbine, America Spends Billions to Prevent Shootings That Keep Happening
Districts have invested in more personnel and physical security measures to keep students safe, but shootings have continued unabated.
9 min read
A group protesting school safety in Laurel County, K.Y., on Feb. 21, 2018. In the wake of a mass shooting at a Florida high school, parents and educators are mobilizing to demand more school safety measures, including armed officers, security cameras, door locks, etc.
A group calls for additional school safety measures in Laurel County, Ky., on Feb. 21, 2018, following a shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., in which 14 students and three staff members died. Districts have invested billions in personnel and physical security measures in the 25 years since the 1999 shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo.
Claire Crouch/Lex18News via AP