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Stand back, it’s time for a rant.

This morning, a caravan of students parents and coaches pulled out of Newton South at 6:30 amidst cheers and celebration from their friends neighbors and community. Our award winning LigerBot team is heading off to the World Championship in St Louis, after overcoming many obstacles.

There’s a lot to love about this story and a lot that makes me proud of those kids, of those parents, and those incredibly dedicated coaches.

Over the last week, as the team and the parents were scrambling as fast as they could to organize this amazing caravan, I was biting my tongue. I didn’t want to distract from or complicate their plans. Now that they’re on their way, it’s time for me to vent a tornado of suppressed frustration.

bots 3As much as I’m proud of those LigerBot kids, parents, and coaches, I’m ashamed of our city government and appalled at the position those parents, kids and coaches were put in.

A quick summary: In the wake of a horrific accident a few years back, the school department instituted additional safety rules about transport for school sanctioned trips – that was a good and wise course of action at the time. Unfortunately, due to a confluence of circumstances (Boston marathon, little time, only two vetted bus companies) those rules prevented the LigerBot team from arranging public transport for the round trip to St Louis for the World Championship this week.

Then it was reported proudly that the school department and team had worked out a solution to the transportation problem – Yeah, great, problem solved!!! …. but here was the solution:
* Parents could get their own kids back and forth to St Louis by car – school dept has no say over that.

* Parents could drive to St Louis and take along some kids beside their own. I think that required a slight bend of some rule to allow kids to be carpooled by other parents.

* Parents could fly with their own kids to St Louis – school department has no say over that.

* Parents could not fly with kids other than their own – dept would be required to vet the airline and they had only vetted bus companies. Really!?!!? The NPS is going to out-vet the FAA. This item is just a minor footnote since it only potentially affected a few students but it illustrates part of the problem.

So with one hand tied behind their backs, the parents and coaches, in an amazingly short amount of time, organized a 47 person, 7 vehicle, two trailer caravan for the 2400 mile road trip. LigerBot parents are doing all the driving and taking the week off work to do it.

Just to be very, very clear. This solution was NOT dictated by safety concerns. It was only dictated by slavish adherence to the rules – which is a completely different thing. There is no one who can make a believable case that seven parents driving seven kid filled minivans, two of them with trailers, is safer than one professional driver driving a single bus.

In a technical sense, nobody did anything wrong. Everybody was just following the rules as written. Each rule by itself had a reasonable rationale and once a rule is in place, no one ever wants to take responsibility for waiving it when it becomes counterproductive. That’s the essence of mindless bureaucracy which is what drove this from start to finish.

What was called for was something very simple – brave, clear leadership. When it became clear that in this particular case, the rules had become counter-productive, that those rules were decreasing safety, that they were creating an immense burden for the parents and team, a leader or leaders needed to stick their neck out and take personal responsibility for bringing back a modicum of common sense to the situation.

I’ll leave it to others to pick their favorite villain but no official stepped up to say STOP, THIS MAKES NO SENSE! The school committee, the superintendent, the NPS transportation dept, the mayor – nobody said boo. Nobody was willing to say what was obvious and offer a solution, to recognize the elephant in the room – FORCING PARENTS TO DRIVE THE LIGERBOTS TO ST LOUIS DOES NOT INCREASE SAFETY.

I find the whole episode immensely depressing and I despair for our city if slavish technical adherence to legal liability minimization trumps true safety concerns and common sense.

The only ray of hope for me was that there was an outbreak of true leadership amidst this fiasco. The LigerBot students, parents and coaches showed true leadership through it all. They refused to take no for an answer. They refused to be stopped by any obstacle. They made substantial personal sacrifices to make this happen. They gritted their teeth, didn’t complain and just got the job done.

Godspeed to the LigerBot Team. Win, lose or draw in St Louis, you’re all already winners in my book.

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