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Family fights for code changes after toddler falls 15 feet through high school bleachers

The Brooks family says that their son Evan was hurt on Oct. 7, 2022, while at Wayne Valley High School. They say that the 3-year-old fell through the bleachers.

Matt Trapani and Naomi Yané

Aug 1, 2023, 3:00 AM

Updated 325 days ago

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A New Jersey family is calling for laws that would require school bleachers to follow current codes after their toddler son fell 15 feet while attending an event at school.
The Brooks family says that their son Evan was hurt on Oct. 7, 2022, while at Wayne Valley High School. They say that the 3-year-old fell through the bleachers.
“I reached for him as he was falling and missed him, I swear, it was by a thread,” says mom Stacey Brooks.
“I couldn’t look down, thinking oh my God, this kid is not going to be alive. And as soon as I heard him cry, I just bolted and went running,” says mom Ashley Brooks.
The mothers say that the family was at the school for a football game where their daughter is a cheerleader. They say that as they sat down on the bleachers Evan missed the seat and fell through the gap.
“I did not see him hit. I couldn’t wait to get down there. I couldn’t get down there fast enough,” says Stacey Brooks.
The family is now pushing for bleacher safety at Wayne schools.
“There are two high schools in Wayne, and they are equally as dangerous and not up to code,” says Stacey Brooks. “We want to make them safe for everyone.”
The mothers took their fight to the Wayne Board of Education last month.
“We stand here today not only as concerned parents but as advocates for the safety of all students and spectators,” Stacey Brooks said at the meeting.
The board concluded that to have just the grandstands at both high schools retrofitted would cost $750,000 and they say it’s not in the budget.
“What most people don’t understand is these are high school bleachers. They’re not designed for 3-year-olds, and they never were,” said board member Cathy Kazan.
But the Brooks family says this is not good enough.
“How much is a person’s life worth? Really? How much? Evan’s fall should be a very large wakeup call,” says Stacey Brooks.
They say that two weeks after Evan fell, another 3-year-old also fell through the bleachers.
A spokesperson for the board wrote in part, “The health, well-being, and safety of our students, staff, and community are top priorities for the Wayne Township Public Schools Board of Education…We looked to the district’s architects to advise us on steps we should take to ensure our facilities are safe and secure. The architect concluded that the bleachers, although older, are up to code, and there are no violations.”
The statement continued, “Making changes to the bleachers now would not be a wise financial choice for the district, as the funding would come directly from taxpayers. Rather, the district is planning a bond referendum for March 2024. If the referendum is approved, the improvements would be eligible for state aid, reducing the impact on Wayne taxpayers. Furthermore, any funds invested in the bleachers would be taxpayer funds lost because the bleachers would be demolished to make way for new bleachers."
The board says in the meantime they plan to run an awareness campaign and post signs on the bleachers and make announcements at games about where younger children can sit.


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