Grade Expectations: Parents Need To Get Realistic About School Security

school securityGrade Expectations is a weekly look at education from a parent’s perspective. We’ll talk special needs, gifted & talented, and everything in between.

This morning, I read about a 5-year-old girl who was taken from her classroom by a total stranger pretending to be a parent without a single school employee realizing that there was a problem. The child was thankfully found safe and sound, and returned to her mother. However, questions about school security and safety were immediately and rightfully raised. I can freely admit that my first reaction was anger with the school. I looked at my husband and said, “How the hell does this happen?”

That righteous anger felt like a natural reaction. It was easy to generate. It was easy to say, “Receptionists should be checking every individual’s photo ID when they come to pick up a child!” Consider my foot stomped for emphasis.

Then I thought about my own situation, and just how realistic I was being when it comes to schools and safety. The honest truth, I’m not being very realistic at all. The sad fact of the matter is that horrible things can happen, and we have to realize that schools are doing the best they can to take care of our kids.

At both my daughter’s school and her daycare, there’s a buzzer to enter the building and only one door for visitors to use. At both buildings, that door is frequently held open for me by another parent walking in and out or a teacher who happens to see me. If I was interested in coming or going from a school without the secretary knowing, it would be as simple as walking in when there’s a decent chance for foot traffic. Good manners would do the rest.

Then there’s those pesky sign-in sheets and the idea that a receptionist will ask every adult for photo ID. Currently, my daughter has approximately 10 people on her list of adults with clearance to pick her up from school or daycare. Myself, my husband and her biological father are all the standards who routinely pick her up. My parents have both helped out by picking her up on occasion. Then there are emergency scenarios, where my husband’s parents and our siblings all might be handling school pick-up. Throw in a new employee unfamiliar with our family, and there would be ample opportunity for someone to slip in and say, “Oh, her mother was supposed to call and tell you guys I was coming?”

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  • meg

    The number of children who are abducted by strangers every year is fewer than 200. “Stranger danger” in this context is a way overblown risk anyway; yes, policies need to be in place, and kids need to be taught to be safe, but honestly any given set of parents should be more worried about, say, cancer, or drunk drivers, or any of 1000000 other things before they need to worry about someone coming in off the street to snatch their kid.

    • LiteBrite

      I agree with you in theory. In practice however…

      It’s not that I think you’re wrong. I know the stats don’t lie, and yes, my son has a much higher chance of being harmed while in my car than he does being snatched by a stranger, particularly at school. But then I read these stories and think “what if….” I do try though to not let paranoia override common sense.

      In regard to the article, I agree. I think we need to be realistic about school safety and what really can be done. Yes, we need to have policies in place, and yes, we need to review them, and if there’s a better way, yeah, let’s go for it if it can be done. But the reality is, if we want tighter school security, then something else is going to have to give. There will always be a trade-off.

  • Paul White

    We could always make schools into supermax style facilities and require a search and escort for anyone coming in to visit….
    I’m kidding of course, it just gets irritating how bound and determined people are to eliminate every possible danger without regard to cost (financial or otherwise). It takes time, money, effort, etc to do things. Some of the most effective measures would also be incredibly intrusive and dehumanizing so you have to add in emotional and psychological cost for those as well.

  • DadCAMP

    What about the kid? A 5 year old is savvy enough to say “who the hell are you?”

    • meg

      “I’m a friend of your mom” (or dad, or whoever). A lot of kids will trust that. Like the author said, it’s easy enough if you want to do it; luckily, very VERY few adults do.

    • Emmali Lucia

      Me and my mom had a pass code to use if something like that ever happened.
      Then again, my mom was raised on Cheyenne Mountain during the most tense part of the cold war, so she was probably used to being more than a little paranoid.

    • Daisy

      I don’t think that’s paranoid at all. It’s something we were constantly taught in my school. To be honest, when I came home from kindergarten and told my parents we needed a password, they thought *I* was a little crazy. But they went with it and made one up. We never needed to use it, but as a kid, I felt better knowing that if I was in an uncertain situation, I had a way to find out if it was okay or not.

    • Tinyfaeri

      It’s not paranoid, my parents and I had one when I was a kid in the ’80s. I was not to go with anyone unless they had that password or it was a planned event like a play date, even if I knew them. I believe if we’d ever had to use it (we didn’t), it would have been changed to something new. I plan to do the same thing with my babygirl when she’s old enough.

    • whiteroses

      Yeah, my parents and I did too. We had a “pass word” that wasn’t used in everyday conversation. My parents and I were the only ones who knew it. My mother told me that if anyone I didn’t know couldn’t give me the password, I was not to go anywhere with them. Somebody came up to me once and told me that my mom and dad had told him to pick me up. I demanded he give me the password. When he couldn’t do it, I ran to the nearest adult I knew and trusted and refused to go anywhere until my parents showed up. (Oh, for what it’s worth, we continued using the password when I got into sticky situations as a teenager- I would call Mom and Dad and give them the password when I got uncomfortable at parties. It helped me get out of a lot of bad situations without actually coming out and saying “Please come get me.” )

    • LiteBrite

      I thought of that too. Then I thought that a) The adults in charge (i.e. the school) thought it was okay, so he probably did too and b) As Meg said, maybe the person said “I’m a friend and it’s okay.” I can see my 5-year-old buying that.

  • AmazingAsh

    The little girl wasn’t exactly found “safe and sound”… she was found dumped on a playground wearing only a t-shirt. She was found at 4:30am by a stranger who heard her crying for help. As far as I know, where she was taken hadn’t been released by officers yet, but I imagine it was terribly traumatic.

    I fully expect daycares and schools to ensure my son’s safety while he’s in their custody. Employees need to be checking IDs and verifying with parents that it’s okay for “X” to pick up my child (assuming I hadn’t left a note). It’s a part of their job, no matter how busy they are doing other things. Children’s safety should always be the number one priority.