Permanent Recess

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The courts ruled that it was not the school's responsibility to keep Bryan from leaving campus. Horizon and the district were not held liable for the accident because, according to the ruling, "the school did not cause the injury to the plaintiff."

That decision has been reinforced by other court rulings, which have concluded it is not the duty of schools to protect drivers from teens who leave campus during lunch. Furthermore, the courts have said, schools that fail to have or enforce closed-campus policies do not violate their duty to protect students.

The result, say legal experts: It's now nearly impossible to sue school districts successfully over lunchtime accidents.

"It's a very tough argument to make," says Betsy Grey, a law professor at Arizona State University. "By negligently enforcing the policy, it doesn't mean the school's negligence caused the car accident. The purpose of the policy has nothing to do with the vehicular accident. It was the student who should not have been driving; it was not the school."

Bryan's mother, Julie Anderson, says it was very difficult to accept that the school was not held accountable for what happened to her son. "When you send your kids to school, you feel that the school has some responsibility in making sure that they're safe," she says. "You have no control over how the kids drive outside of school, but when they're at school, they are expected to be kept on campus. If you have a security guard who, just because he knows them, turns his head and says, Just make sure you're back on time,' that's a little hard to accept."

She says the school told her that it was up to her and other parents to discipline their children who left campus against their wishes.

She tried that, she says, but it didn't work. She told her son on the first day of school, after a family friend caught him eating lunch at the mall, that he was not allowed to leave campus. If he did, he would not be allowed to play sports.

After that, she never heard of another problem.

"I never got a call from the school saying Bryan has been caught leaving campus," she says. "If I knew he was doing it, there would have been consequences. Instead, he's a lead athlete and they're making excuses for him. They're allowing this to happen. Where are their consequences?"

The school year was just getting under way this past August when Omar Cano, 17, left North Canyon High School with two of his friends to eat lunch at the Burger King at Cave Creek Road and Union Hills Drive.

At the restaurant, the boys ran into a group of girls they recognized from school. Cano, who had already received a speeding ticket earlier that morning, asked one of the students if she wanted to race her new 2001 Hyundai Tiburon. The driver, Cortney Schwartz, said no and left the restaurant with three of her friends.

Schwartz pulled out of Burger King onto Union Hills heading west. Cano was not far behind, speeding and revving his engine. He suddenly veered into the two-way center turn lane, losing control of the 1995 two-door Honda and swerving into eastbound traffic. Cano's Honda collided with a Nissan pickup truck, killing 17-year-old Victor Reyes, the front-seat passenger in Cano's car, and critically injuring Cano. He died a few weeks later.

North Canyon allows seniors to leave school during lunch if their parents have given them written permission. Just a day or two before the accident, Cano's dad had signed the form.

Most of North Canyon's seniors about 300 out of 500 complete their classes before lunchtime, according to John Kriekard, assistant superintendent of the Paradise Valley School District, of which North Canyon is a part. Of the remaining 200 seniors, about half have their parents' permission to leave campus during lunch. That means about 100 students leave school and return for afternoon classes nearly every day.

Since the accident, some parents have pressed the school to change the lunchtime policy and restrict all students to campus.

But other parents about half, one survey showed want the policy to stay the same so their sons and daughters can leave campus.

One of them, ironically, is the father of Omar Cano.

"The same type of thing could happen at lunch, after school or on the weekend," says Rogelio Ronquillo, father to the dead drag racer. "It's just the way these kids drive. I don't see a point for schools to close the campus during lunch."

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Tatum Ostaff