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.”
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- RUSD apologizes to sixth-grader
- TNT considered ‘dynamite pairing’ at Ramona school district office
- Principals Tennebaum, Solis retiring at end of Ramona school year
- Ramona Elementary Principal Phyllis Munoz to retire at end of school year
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