Missing first-grader prompts review of school’s safety plan

Editor’s note: Because of the age of the child, this article contains neither the child’s name nor the name of the school.

By Maureen Robertson

Parents of a 6-year-old first-grader experienced what the child’s father calls a horrible and surreal event as he, school officials and parents searched for approximately 20 minutes before finding the child about a mile from school.

While the child’s parents commended the teacher for her immediate response last Monday afternoon, they are concerned about what they believe is unprofessional and retaliatory behavior and said they will file a complaint with Ramona Unified School District.

“Now we walk into the school and nobody talks to us,” the father said. “…Because we went to the principal, the teacher yelled at us. Every time we say anything back to them, they’re 180’ing on us and giving reasons why it’s our fault… They want to chalk it up to a perception issue.”

The father said he arrived at the school about 15 minutes before dismissal on Oct. 7 and sat where he could see the first-grade classroom doors. When his child didn’t leave with the other students at 3:10 p.m., he went inside and the teacher told him the child had gone to the bathroom, he said.

The teacher checked the bathroom, the child was paged from the school office, and then a search began, first around campus and the father’s vehicle. An acquaintance joined the search and found the child walking along a road about a mile from school, said the father.

The child told her parents she heard the bell ring when she was in the bathroom and went to where her father normally parks his vehicle.

“For whatever 6-year-old reason, she started walking,” he said.

The mother believes that the child may have thought, “I’m a big girl. I’ll walk home.”

“We’re not troublemakers,” she said. “I’m just sick about my kid. I’m worried about retribution.”

The father had trouble sleeping that night thinking of the range of things that could have happened. The school needs a safety plan, procedures for releasing students, he said. That was his concern and reason for talking with the principal.

When he and his wife brought their child to school the next day, they thanked the teacher.

“We believe that she cares and we believe she’s a good teacher,” he said. “However, there’s some issues that I need to talk to the principal about regarding the incident.”

When he told the teacher that, she became confrontational and defensive, he said.

“That was unprofessional and defensive and uncompassionate toward our situation,” he said. “I had no intention of hearing her excuses.”

The principal told the parents the school’s safety plan was outdated and needed to be updated, and last Thursday shared some policy changes with the parents, the father said.

“That was acceptable,” he said. “I’m not a school administrator. It sounds good to me.”

The principal then discussed what the teacher had told her, that the child had returned to class from the bathroom about 10 minutes before the bell, left via the room’s side door, “and it was their opinion that I had just missed her,” he said.

“That’s not the story that was given to me by the teacher the day of the incident,” he said.

The parents had an appointment with the principal on Friday, but learned when they arrived that she was teaching a class. The father said that an office worker was discourteous and rude and told them the school did not lose their child. His wife and she got into a dispute in the middle of the office, he said.

“We have parents that used to chat with us that are now not talking with us,” he said. “The teacher doesn’t say hi, she gives us the cold shoulder.”

The school told him there have been two anonymous complaints against his wife.

“We never cursed or swore, but we did raise our voices when we were treated uncompassionately about what happened,” he said. “…This is an ongoing nightmare and it’s getting worse and worse…Now it’s avalanched into unprofessional and discourteous behavior toward us and twisting this around upon us that we simply just missed our child. Now it’s an integrity issue.”

He just wanted the school to address its policy, he said. “Now there’s a culture of reprisal because we brought the issue to the principal.”

“We will bring our complaint to the district,” he said. “…It’s not like we’re threatening lawsuits. We just wanted the safety issues to be addressed.”

The parents want an impartial investigation “where all the facts are taken and not a one-sided story where facts have changed,” he said.

Superintendent Robert Graeff, responding to the Sentinel’s call to the principal, said on Monday the principal was busy and unavailable. While there seems to be a difference of opinion regarding the incident, the student “somehow left the campus independently shortly after dismissal,” said Graeff. “…It doesn’t matter. The school takes full responsibility. Somehow the student left campus. It shouldn’t have happened. We’re taking steps to assure it doesn’t happen again.”

Policies regarding release of kindergartners and first-graders differ, depending on circumstances at each school, he said. For example, some are released to their parents, some to bus drivers, some to after-school programs, and some are taken to the Boys and Girls Club, he said.

There is no districtwide policy regarding the release of kindergartners and first-graders, he said. He and Theresa Grace, senior director of education services for the district, said it may be an issue for discussion at a future meeting of principals and other district leaders.

Regarding comments about staff and parent behavior, Graeff said, “It’s certainly my hope that school staff was not disrespectful to parents and my equal hope that parents were not disrespectful to staff.”

Related posts:

  1. Pauline Leavitt to replace Linda Solis as Ramona middle school principal
  2. RUSD apologizes to sixth-grader
  3. TNT considered ‘dynamite pairing’ at Ramona school district office
  4. Principals Tennebaum, Solis retiring at end of Ramona school year
  5. Ramona Elementary Principal Phyllis Munoz to retire at end of school year

Short URL: http://www.ramonasentinel.com/?p=28099

Posted by Maureen Robertson on Oct 16 2013. Filed under News, Ramona, Schools. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

28 Comments for “Missing first-grader prompts review of school’s safety plan”

  1. Stephan

    Wait, wait, wait … don't release the name of the kid, fine, makes perfect sense. But why not the school? Makes no sense to me. Is someone being protected other than the child maybe? Full disclosure: I am the parent of a first grader.

  2. JDE Parent

    I am very disappointed in the Sentinel! This is a very one sided story. I understand that the teachers and staff may not be able to discuss the events with you but several other parents who were present, myself included, would have been able to give a truthful account of what took place. There are numerous witnesses on the day the girl left school and several who witnessed the parents inexcusable treatment of staff and the teacher in the days following. Next time you should contact additional sources before writing an article that is so very far from the truth.

    • sandra j

      so, it was james dukes then?

    • Former JDE Parent

      You make it sound like this is all made up. My kid went to JD and the office staff are horrible. If the parents were upset with the staff it was probably because the staff is rude and the administration is obviously in the midst of a cover up.

  3. Brett

    Maybe am just old fashioned.When I was in first grade we walked or road bikes to and from school. We knew the rules, straight to and from school, no side trips. The teachers, principle and school administrators were not responsible for us.
    Parenting today lacks personal responsibility by the parents and they are not teaching their children personal responsibility and that their actions have consequences!

    • CA Smith

      I am totally with you regarding parental responsibility, and individual responsibility in general. But there are times when you hand over that responsibility to others with the expectation that they will live up to their duties. School is one such thing. Unless you expect to be at the school all day, the expectation is that the school staff will keep your child out of trouble.

      If you expect your child to leave school and go home by themselves, without escort, you may get away with it. Even today, child abduction is relative infrequent. But no matter how well disciplined, any child can be taken by a predator if they cross paths while the pervert is hunting.

  4. JDE Parent

    This is so upsetting to read as many of these statements are clearly inaccurate. It is irresponsible and unprofessional journalism to print such a one sided story without first seeking information from other parties to corroborate or otherwise. I was witness to what happened that day. I have seen first hand how professional and diligently it has been handled. It is appalling how the teacher and staff continue to be berated and scolded publicly by this family. Shame on you Sentinel.

  5. RamonaParent

    Ladies and gentlemen, the site location is not nearly as important as the article's message regarding our entire Ramona community. Considering we have multiple parent witnesses who claim otherwise, the details of the article's content would be upsetting to any school staff member. And as we all know, our Ramona teachers are extraordinary. The idea that the Sentinel would publish articles without gathering facts – from the people who love our children – is unacceptable. We are not only a unified school district, but we are also a unified community. Right? The Sentinal should ashamed of themselves.

  6. Ramona Resident

    Why wasn’t the teacher’s side of the story ever asked about? After reading the other comments to this article it is upsetting to see that many parent witnesses are willing to claim otherwise. The Sentinel should be ashamed for posting a one sided story that could potentially harm someone’s reputation…. Especially when they don’t have all of the facts straight.

    • Guest

      Or, perhaps the Sentinel does have its facts straight. It wouldn't be the first time I've seen one of the schools cover a screw up. The bottom line is the school was negligent as it relates to this kid and the kid's parents were rightfully upset at the lack of oversight provided by the school. As for the claims by witness parents that the child's parents were rude to school staff, they had every right to be. So much of this whole thing fits what I have seen in the past from the schools – parent upset about something and the school giving them their standard condescending answers in that self-righteous tone they often take. District and school staff so often forget that they work for us, not the other way around. I would have come unglued on them also.

      • Ramona Resident

        Or perhaps they don’t. And perhaps this newspaper article is misinforming its readers and you making rude comments about how the school was negligent solves nothing.

        • Guest

          Or perhaps you're drinking the school's Kool Aid or are an employee of the district? I've experienced first-hand the incompetence and rudeness of staff at JDE and other school sites. None of this surprises me. If it quacks like a duck…

  7. Kindermom

    Two things I noticed reading this story. If these parent witnesses are so concerned about setting the story straight why are they hiding behind aliases?

    If the Principal really did say that the school safety plan was outdated that's a problem.

  8. Cindy Rosenthal

    There can be no side of a story more important than the safe keeping of children during school hours. It is the responsibility of the school to not lose children. I am on the side of the parents 100%. There can be no excuse a teacher or school could give me that would be acceptable if they lost my child during the day. NONE. It's not like someone entered the school and abducted the child from the bathroom. Besides, if the parents were a little shattered, for God's sake…they deserve some grace.

  9. AEMF

    If your child went missing from school, you probably would go batsh** crazy too.

    All "blame" aside, I'm a high schoolteacher and we have a safety plan. Every school has a safety plan. Just like that little girl left with no one to notice, someone could potentially go INTO the school without anyone noticing either. The potential danger that these parents are acknowledging is very real and doesn't deserve finger pointing. Sandy Hook, anyone?!

    • See the facts

      As a teacher you should know to look at the facts and should be able to see all the of the holes in this story and should definitely know better than trying to panic parents with the Sandy Hook statement again facts he went through a security door at the office and quite a few of those awful staff people gave their lives to try to protect the students!

    • sandra j

      "high schoolteacher"

      maybe you want to keep quiet about that.

  10. Steve

    This town, this newspaper and most of it's residents have gone out of control and it is time for me and my family to move.
    The next thing I am going to read in this "newspaper" is a two page article from Darell Beck blaming this lost girl on Obama and his assault on liberty. WOW! Both sad and scary.

    • Longtime Resident

      Good. This used to be a much better place to live before a bunch of people from down the hill moved up here and tried to turn Ramona into yet another yuppie socialist paradise.

      • Steve

        Born and raised here. We should really strive to live like we are much closer to 2050 than the1950 you and your narrow mind are obvioulsy stuck in. Keep your head stuck in the Ramona sand and good luck to you.

        • Longtime Resident

          You mean the 2050 where all those things we thought were impossible in Orwell's 1984 have come true? The thought police, the rewriting of history books, political correctness gone awry, and liberty squashed by greedy politicians? That 2050? I prefer the 1950 model where personal responsibility and freedom were actually considered strengths rather than punchlines in late night comedy routines. Good luck to you when you move down the hill. I think you'll find, like I did when I left for a short time, that it is a cesspool down there.

  11. RWT

    We really can't argue the facts because at this point, until an independent investigation is conducted, the facts are unknown. What is troubling is the fact that The Sentinel would print such hearsay. I thought responsible journalism meant to gather all the facts and present both sides of the story. To me this article reads like a "Letter to the Editor", definitely not a good journalist piece!

    • Guest

      The FACT that a 6 year old kid was unattended and wandered off campus is not in dispute. That is the point. The school was negligent in its duty to supervise that child while in their care. As for the office staff, I know first-hand that many, not all, of the office staff at the schools are rude to parents. I don't know if its a false sense of entitlement or what, but the behavior I have personally witnessed would be grounds for immediate termination where I work. At the school, nobody ever does anything about rude or incompetent staff. Just a hunch – if the teacher, staff, and principal handled the parents LIKE A CUSTOMER, no article would have been written and it would have passed.

  12. Guest

    The Sentinel got a statement from the Superintendent. They also attempted to contact the Principal but was told by the Superintendent that she was "busy and unavailable" I would imagine that the teacher was asked not to speak to the press. This story is certainly news-worthy.

    • RWT

      The story is definitely newsworthy, I don't think anyone would argue that. The manner it was reported by The Sentinel…amateurish. That's my point. Get the facts then report them. I'll bet the districts side of the story is completely different from these parents, who have quite a reputation at this school. I can tell you one fact, at least 75% of what's these parents state in this article is "inaccurate, fabricated, lies". They have another agenda, this was added fuel.

  13. RamonaGal

    Wait a minute, everyone! We weren't there. So, we don't know what happened. There were (obviously) many people involved other than this one parent. But the article is simply from his/her point of view – there were no other points of view reported (other than one little paragraph from the Superintendent toward the end). That is not responsible reporting – we need to know all the points of view to make any conclusions. And don't believe everything you read from the Sentinal…sensational articles have been printed in the past, so it could be sensational again.

  14. RamonaParent

    Let's be reasonable here. You all can't really think that this article gives an accurate account of an incident when it's ONLY written from the parent's point of view.

    Guest, the article clearly indicates that the Principal wasn't available because she was teaching a class.

    And to those of you who are claiming that an "entire" staff could be rude and disrespectful – that's ridiculous. I've been to most of the elementary schools here and I know first hand that the Ramona teachers and staffs love our kids. Don't fall prey to one person's perspective advertised in bad journalism. Our kids are safe. I believe in our schools and so should you.

  15. Brad D.

    I don't find the article to be out-of-line in the least, considering the Sentinel is a small-town rag. I can distinguish that the parents' story is their story and the superintendent responded professionally. Short-comings of the article are that the principal or teacher weren't given a voice, but that's not unusual.

    What is unusual is the number of trolls in the comments section. It reads like a playbook of sound bites.

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