Præstø headteacher appeals verdict

Headteacher will appeal verdict that found him responsible for grievous bodily harm of students who fell in freezing water on school boat trip

The headteacher of Lundby Efterskole will appeal his 60-month suspended sentence he received as a result of the Præstø boating disaster that left one teacher dead and seven students with permanent injuries.

While the school and its headteacher, Troels Truelsen, were found innocent of manslaughter, they were both found guilty of causing grievous bodily harm, irresponsible sailing, and a failure to comply with sea safety rules. Truelsen was handed a suspended sentence and the school was made to pay a 250,000 kroner fine.

Two weeks after the sentence was made, the headteachers' association, Frie Skolers Ledere, have now announced that they will appeal the sentence.

“Our legal advisers have examined the verdict and its terms, and our assessment is that the explanation for the verdict cannot justify handing responsibility to the headteacher” chairman Mogens Lorentzen wrote in a press release.

Lundby Efterskole, on the other hand, has chosen to accept the 250,000 kroner fine for its share of responsibility in the capsizing accident on the cold February day in 2011.

The teacher responsible for the dragon boat excursion, 44-year-old Michael Jørgensen, died from exposure after the boat capsized in freezing water. The trial this January focused on whether the students had received sufficient safety instructions and equipment and whether the school and its headteacher could be found responsible for the accident.

While Truelsen, who was in Austria at the time of the accident, escaped the involuntary manslaughter charge for Jørgensen’s death, the court found that the students had been given inappropriate safety equipment and that the school had underestimated the risk of having a dragon boat trip at that time of year.

In putting their support behind Truelsen, the headteachers' association argued that the verdict puts headteachers in a vulnerable legal position.

“It’s the first time a headteacher has been accused of being responsible for an accident they were not directly involved in,” Lorentzen wrote in the press release. “The verdict’s justification does not distinguish between the school’s responsibility and the headteacher’s responsibility. The verdict therefore creates insecurity about the separation of responsibility between the employer, headteachers and pupils.”

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