Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Chemicals are bad

A little while ago I encountered my first real snare to my barefoot project:  I was asked to wear shoes at Elli's school.  At the time I simply acquiesced and went along with their request, not being at all sure if it was a good idea to get into a fight with a school I intend to have my daughter at for many years yet.  Today I decided that it is was a good time to push back, just a little, and politely.  I will quote my letters exactly, but not theirs since I do not know how they would feel about that.  I will report the gist of what they said though.  My email:

Hi there.

It has been a couple weeks since I was taken aside and asked to always wear shoes while at Central Eglinton and given my experiences since then I am questioning that necessity.

I walk everywhere barefoot and have done so for 10 weeks now.  I walk through back alleys strewn with rocks and broken glass, I hike, I go on trips, I take public transportation and I walk on the black asphalt in the city during this heat wave with no issues and yet I am asked to wear shoes to walk on clean tile flooring.  I carry my shoes while walking barefoot to and from the school and wear them inside since it is far by the most comfortable way for me to obey.

I also went to speak to a foot doctor and found out that walking barefoot isn't simply something I enjoy - it is recommended for good foot, joint and leg health.  Most people don't do so due to social stigma, but there is every reason to think that what I am doing is better for my health than the alternative.

So my questions to you are as follows:

1.  Is there actually a rule on the books that requires shoes to be worn by all visitors to the school such as myself?  If so, what exactly is it?

2.  Again assuming such a rule is there, what is the justification for it?  

Their response was interesting.  There is in fact no rule on the books at all that prohibits bare feet.  However, the janitor uses chemicals to clean the floors and has been informed that it is 100% unacceptable for them to allow someone wearing bare feet on the premises.  The reason for this prohibition is that the cleaning chemicals used on the floor pose a risk to people touching them.  They claimed that it was an insurance issue which I sadly have no trouble believing.

So, to be clear:  We have a daycare, where children crawl on the floor, play on the floor and drop objects on the floor and then pick them up and put them in their mouths and this same daycare has a floor that is so dangerously high in chemicals that an adult cannot safely walk on it without foot protection.

I might suggest first that all the children who have spent 8 hours/day playing on that floor should first be quarantined in a hospital because by this point they must be nearly dead and probably are exhibiting a faint green glow.  The other possibility of course is that the children in the daycare are perfectly safe, and by extension the threat to me is zero.

While it might be convenient to blame the school I am fairly sure it would be entirely misplaced.  They have to have insurance and if insurance companies make up arbitrary rules it does not change the school's position at all;  The school must still have insurance and they will buy it with irrational clauses included.  Insurance companies will throw every possible clause in that they can get away with, and targetting any behaviour outside social norms is easy and safe because so few will object.  I honestly don't know whether or not the court system is really at fault here or not.  It seems possible that ridiculous lawsuits go through that force insurance companies to clamp down hard in every way they can to protect themselves, but it also seems plausible that insurance companies simply overstate their liability in order to wring more money from their customers and escape clauses from their contracts.  I just don't know, although I suppose it is almost certainly a mix of the two.  My rebuttal letter:

The idea that a chemical that is safe for a children's daycare floor is going to post even the remotest threat to me through the soles of my feet is obviously preposterous.

I am sorry that you are in the position of enforcing a sacrifice of personal freedom, especially at the cost of an attempt to improve health, to satisfy an irrational, illogical fear on the part of an faceless insurance adjuster.

Their final response made me very sad for the state of my country but happier with the people that I am dealing with in particular.  They reported that in fact many of the rules they are required to enforce 'seem preposterous' but yet they have no option but to enforce them.  Sad but true.


  1. Just as a note, I LOVE the word preposterous. It gives me an image of a British gentleman sitting in an enormous leather chair twirling his mustaches and saying "PREPOSTEROUS!"

    I can't say why that image is there or why I like it so much, but I sure do.


  2. Wow!

    As sad as their final response makes me, I am still very impressed by the frankness of their responses. I suspect that this is more likely to happen in cases where the responder knows who you are, or is in close communication with those who do. Do you know if that is the case here?

  3. They know me. I have spoken to the people who responded to my emails in person several times and we know each other by name and sight.