This recent story in the Chicago Tribune had me angry and scared. Little Arejohnnae Powers was only six when her elementary school in Waukegan allowed her to wander off, failing to make sure she went home with her teenage sister, who had made special arrangements with the school to pick her up. This poor little girl was wandering the streets looking for her home for two hours before relatives found her. Understandably, she is traumatized. I know, I’ve gotten under some people’s skin for complaining about parents who leave their children home alone (see my post at Chicago Moms Blog). In this case, the child was neglected by her school. A school that deals with dismissing children every day and should have done better.
How often does it happen and how often can it happen that our little ones can fall through the cracks and be forgotten by school officials? I don’t know much about our elementary school’s pick up policy. For Kindergarten (a separate school in our district), the parents and caregivers lined up outside the door and waited while each child was dismissed one by one, paying careful attention to the notes on a clipboard listing authorized pick-up names. My six-year-old, now in first grade, takes the bus home. I have seen the chaos that comes just before dismissal. The “busers” as they are called, gather their coats and backpacks and head out for the back door where the buses wait. The children who are picked up are dismissed out the classroom door and are supposed to head for the front door, where they mill about, play on the playground, jump into waiting automobiles or are greeted by someone to walk them home. I think there are a few teachers watching this scene, but I don’t know how diligent they are.
I took Arejohnnae’s case as a chance to talk about school dismissal with Eva. I told her about the news article and asked her what she should do if she was told to walk home without me, her father, or her grandmother. She now knows that the best thing to do would be to walk right back into that school, go right to the office and tell them there is no one to pick her up and she will not go anywhere alone. I hope this never happens, but one never knows. Also, I hope Arejohnnae Powers feels safe again soon.