Menlo Park school district sued over student injured by piano on playground

In the land of earthquakes, even IKEA has kits to bolt heavy indoor furniture to the walls just in case. Turns out, securing heavy furniture -- in this case, a piano -- outdoors on a school playground might also be a smart idea.

The parents of a nine-year-old student are suing the Menlo Park City School District for injuries they say she sustained when a piano on the outdoor playground of Oak Knoll Elementary School toppled over on her as another student jumped on top of it, according to court documents.

The lawsuit, filed in San Mateo County Superior Court on March 18, alleges that the girl is expected to have "some permanent disability" as a result of the accident. The school should have known that an unrestrained piano with wheels could easily be moved by students, the complaint states, and "that injury was likely to occur frequently in the absence of adequate supervision."

The Ahn family's attorney, Forrest Shryock, said the parents are very concerned not only for their daughter, but also the other students on campus. "Playground supervision is a big issue in California now, with tight budgets leading to limited supervision. This (case ) kind of fits into that whole issue," he said. "You'd think that if someone saw pianos being pushed around, and kids climbing on them, they would have stopped it."

He said that he's been told the piano is now secured to a fence.

According to the school district, it received notice of the lawsuit on Thursday, April 4, and couldn't comment on any specifics at this time.

"This was an unfortunate accident, and we regret any injuries this child sustained," Superintendent Maurice Ghysels told the Almanac. He said the piano was moved to the playground "as part of a trend to place street pianos in public places to encourage interest in music by students. We had an extra piano at our school and after hearing of the success of this practice in San Jose, we placed the piano so it was available to students during recess. It was very well received by students and parents."

The court has scheduled a case management conference for May 23.


Posted by Menlo Voter, a resident of Menlo Park: other
on Apr 8, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Menlo Voter is a registered user.


Posted by Loving Parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Menlo Oaks
on Apr 8, 2014 at 11:29 pm

Ridiculous is the lack of adult supervision on the yards-I checked for myself this year due to other issues with my children. If you have elementary school aged children you should be focused on this issue--the 'plan' is not the reality and it's not sufficient for a large population such as Oak Knoll.

Posted by SCB, a resident of another community
on Apr 8, 2014 at 11:47 pm

SCB is a registered user.

Aside from a child being injured because of lack of playground supervision, a piano does not belong outdoors. To let it be rained on, let the moisture in the air wreck the tuning, rust parts of the piano - what kind of a way is that to treat a piano? You cannot interest a child in real music when the piano can no longer make music because of being ruined by weather! Even when kept inside, its cover should be closed overnight to protect it from the salty moisture in the air. I was told this by a piano tuner who tuned my 6-foot Yamaha grand. If you want to totally ruin a piano, expose it to outdoor weather and young boys who do not respect it, so they jump on it. This is total stupidity to do this to a musical instrument. If the school district had an "extra" piano, they could have sold it so they could use the money for the benefit of the students in other ways, i.e., school supplies, a special field trip, whatever. Whoever made the decision to put a piano outside needs to have their head examined.

Posted by School mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:45 am

Who needs playground supervision when the buildings are so nice??

Posted by SteveC, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 9, 2014 at 2:48 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

Piano on the play ground, what brilliant person that this one up. SCB is right.

Posted by You Look Mahhhvelous, a resident of Menlo Park: Linfield Oaks
on Apr 9, 2014 at 3:27 pm

Only in Menlo Park! Someone must have wanted to replace their old upright with a $50,000 Yamaha grand piano. But a piano - even a run-of-the-mill upright - is not a climbing toy. Putting it on a playground doesn't encourage respect or appreciation. If you want kids to discover music, put it in the multi with some keyboard templates and give them access during recess. The school district deserves to compensate this family although I doubt it will stop them from worrying more about how things look than about how they benefit the community.

Posted by Menlo parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 6:26 pm

I think people are being too hard on the school district. I find the concept of a street piano completely charming, and an inspired addition to a playground. It's an appropriate use for an instrument that may be beyond rehabilitation, as many are. Certainly, safety considerations can be in place. But don't we overdo the risk aversion sometimes? In recent years, see saws and climbing structures have been deemed unacceptably dangerous. And now we consider a PIANO too hazardous as well? And we want constant adult supervision/intervention at playtime? Our kids are increasingly being raised in bubbles, to their detriment. This article describes the trend:

Web Link

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 6:47 pm

@ Menlo parent-

Please explain how a "charming" piano on an elementary school playground, unsupervised, perhaps "beyond rehabilitation" can possibly benefit the appreciation of music by 5-10 year old children. Without previous training, most kids in that age group will abuse the instrument, thus rendering it completely useless except as a receptacle for dirt, sand, food & beverage residue, etc. I don't think a young genius will emerge as a result of this placement. Far better as suggested above to put it inside a room for controlled access.

Public pianos are fairly common in some European cities but they are sited with some weather protection & where primarily adult access is most likely (courtyards of public buildings, hospitals, etc).

Posted by Menlo parent, a resident of Menlo Park: Allied Arts/Stanford Park
on Apr 9, 2014 at 8:30 pm

@ Downtowner

I'm afraid you misunderstood my post. I would never suggest that the benefit of the "street piano" in this setting is to create musical appreciation. Quite the contrary, I believe the benefit is purely to have fun. My point is that we may be over-concerned with providing a safe, sterile environment for our children. Outrage over the presence of a piano on a playground is a symptom of this.

Posted by Downtowner, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 10:26 am

@ Menlo parent

Supt. Ghysels said it was placed there to "encourage interest in music by students."

Posted by Central Menlo Mom, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 10, 2014 at 12:19 pm

This piano was an old one but there several years ago by a wonderful music teacher who could not use it in the classroom anymore. Some of my son's best memories on the playground were of playing duets, or humming along with some very talented kids. While I totally agree that supervision may have been lacking and the equipment may not have been secured properly -- it was a welcome addition for kids who did not want to participate in the sports games or crowds on play structures.

The focus should be on the supervision -- not the instrument.

Posted by SteveC, a resident of Menlo Park: Downtown
on Apr 10, 2014 at 3:34 pm

SteveC is a registered user.

The focus should be on both. Pianos belong inside!

Posted by Ethan, a resident of Menlo Park: University Heights
on Apr 10, 2014 at 3:47 pm

Henceforth, playground instruments will be limited to acoustic strings and small woodwinds.

Posted by A Parent, a resident of another community
on Apr 14, 2014 at 11:01 am

The posts by the music snobs on this thread are truly hilarious.

Posted by KellyB, a resident of Menlo Park: Central Menlo Park
on Apr 14, 2014 at 11:16 pm

I have kids at Oak Knoll and they LOVE the outdoor piano. They've learned to play songs from peers and other times enjoy watching those who are more proficient play advanced songs. I'm so sorry to hear that a child was injured and glad to hear that the piano is secured now. I. Admit, I was skeptical of the outdoor piano concep but have come to appreciate its value!

Posted by MPCSD Teacher, a resident of another community
on Apr 15, 2014 at 8:45 pm

Ghysels: "We had an extra piano at our school and after hearing of the success of this practice in San Jose, we placed the piano so it was available to students during recess."

Once again, Ghysels seizes an opportunity to portray himself as an innovator. How was he involved in placing the piano on the playground?

It's curious that the district didn't quietly settle this case before it went public. Another display of the Board's hubris...

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