Q: At the end of every school day, I escort my students to the school buses, watching them until they leave. Last week the supervisor came to school and saw the girls running to their buses unattended. She discovered that they were my students, and reprimanded me for not fulfilling my duties properly. On impulse, I answered, “I must have not been there that day. I’m generally very careful to look after the girls. It probably happened on Wednesday.”
When the supervisor wanted to know who the substitute was, I told her that I didn’t know, because I realized that my excuse was lashon hara.
Later, I heard that the substitute was strongly reprimanded by the supervisor.
1. Was it halachically permissible to say that I was absent that day, thus clearing myself of the accusation?
2. Was I allowed to lie, saying that I didn’t know who the substitute was? (The lie did nothing to change the situation; the supervisor could easily work out who it was.)
A: Inasmuch as it is preferable to avoid revealing who was at fault, because the supervisor may decide not to investigate the matter any further, in this particular instance you were also correct in lying regarding the substitute. Your reactions were halachically sound all along. The substitute was guilty of a lack of responsibility in her substituting job, and in ensuring the students’ safety. You were therefore permitted to say that you weren’t in school that day, thus clearing yourself of fault. This would be the case even if the supervisor could thereby deduce who was the person in charge at the time.
It seems that even according to middas hachassidus you had no obligation to assume responsibility for the fault. For the benefit of your job, it is vital that you maintain a positive relationship with your supervisor, and it could have been detrimental for you to accept the blame. There may also be a constructive purpose in reprimanding the substitute for her lack of responsibility.