New Castle News

New Castle

September 18, 2012

Our Opinion: Child who wanders away from school shows need for improved efforts

NEW CASTLE — We’re pleased that West Side Elementary School intends to tighten its rules after one of its students recently went missing.

Some confusion, and probably a little carelessness, resulted in the 6-year-old wandering away from the New Castle school. Reports indicate she was instructed to go outside to meet her mother and return to the building if the parent hadn’t yet arrived.

Instead, the girl walked away from the school, and when her mother arrived to find her missing, a search commenced. Fortunately she was found, nearly a half-hour later, unharmed.

But that didn’t pacify the mother, who complained to the New Castle News about the incident and the school’s handling of her special needs daughter. The mother said she did not want her daughter returning to West Side School and was looking at alternatives.

In discussing the incident with The News, West Side principal Carmen Nocera acknowledged “some issues” on the day of the incident, but indicated the fact the mother was late in picking up the child contributed to the situation.

That may be a valid argument, but had something bad happened to this child, such a defense wouldn’t help the school district from a legal standpoint. It had custodial responsibility for the child until the parent arrived.

Having a child wander away from a school happens on occasion. These facilities, after all, are not prisons. And if a child is inclined to slip away, educators can be caught off guard.

But there is reason for vigilance, particularly at the West Side School, located as it is along a very busy West Washington Street. Even without the concern of a potential abduction of an unattended youngster, the combination of elementary-age children and traffic creates a hazard.

But with a school where some youngsters indeed walk to nearby homes, having one leave unexpectedly is quite conceivable. What troubled us most about this particular incident, however, was the fact New Castle police never were called.

In the case of a missing child, school officials should have contacted the police department within minutes, as soon as it was clear the child was not where she should have been. Instead, the youngster was found by a school secretary driving around the neighborhood and police said they knew nothing about the situation.

While the mother of the child was understandably upset by this incident, we think the best response is to have school officials and parents come to a better understanding of what’s needed to protect children and to work to improve communications in order to prevent future problems.

Trying to have the youngster transferred to another school isn’t the answer.

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