Following the Sandy Hook, Connecticut tragedy in December, school districts across America (including TESD) moved quickly to review, enhance and upgrade safety procedures. In January of this year, the TE School Board and administration sought to assure the local community that every effort and precaution was underway to make certain our schools (and our children) were safe. The Board and the administration held a town hall meeting that included the announcement of former police chief Andy Chambers as District safety consultant, the formation of a safety committee and the infusion of $250K into the budget for immediate safety upgrades to the schools.
It has been six months since the School Board and administration announced their plans to increase the budget for safety, and to review and upgrade the safety policies of our schools. Other than Police Superintendent Tony Giaimo’s reports at the township’s Board of Supervisors meetings, I have heard virtually no discussion from the School Board or administration on the status of the safety committee meetings, the completion of safety upgrades to the schools or any type of final report from the safety expert Andy Chambers. I appreciate that some of the information may be protected and could pose a security risk if released to the public. However, it is important that parents know that baseline safety procedures are thoroughly reviewed and that their children are safe which brings me to the purpose of this post.
Last night I received a very troubling email from a friend and TE School District resident, Karen Pecora, concerning a District safety issue involving her son, Christopher who is attending a summer reading camp at Hillside Elementary School. Yesterday was Christopher’s first day of summer camp, and unfortunately for the family, a day not long to be forgotten. Here is Karen’s story about what happened on the first day of camp … this should be a cautionary tale for all parents.
Lack of Safety at Hillside Elementary School
Christopher age 6 is enrolled in the summer reading camp that is offered to children in the TE School District who benefit from 5 weeks of small class reading instruction. On July 1, he attended Hillside Elementary (his regular school is Valley Forge Elementary). I dropped him off with a note that I would pick him up – I also called the camp director, Wendy Toll, and left a message to NOT put him on the bus. Christopher has never been on a bus, as I drove him to and from school for kindergarten.
Upon arrival at Hillside for pick-up, I took my place in the car line only to be pushed aside because they could not find my son. The director, Wendy, came out and said that she had received my call but since they could not find Christopher, she assumed he was sent on the bus. She could not be certain but her suggestion was for me to go home and try and beat the bus. Camp lets out at 11:30 AM. I left Hillside at 11:48 AM when the bus was scheduled to arrive at 11:47 AM!
At 11:57 AM with no bus in sight, I called 911 and the Tredyffrin police were onsite at Hillside in minutes but again the director, Mary could not confirm whether Christopher was actually on the bus. The officers conducted an interview and did a wonderful job! I was told that Wendy was unable to say that my child was 100% on that bus! She admitted that she “thought” Christopher was on the bus but she shed based that on the fact that he wasn’t still at Hillside!
One hour and 6 minutes after camp let out, Christopher arrived safe and sound.
My conflict is this … Christopher was at an unfamiliar school with new, unfamiliar teachers. My observation is that Hillside has not issued any type of sign for pick up and have provided no required a list of approved persons to pick up nor do they ask for identification from the driver in the car line! These are basic measures taken during the school year.
I’m today’s world I cannot wrap my mind around why a district wide program does not have the same safety procedures in place! A change must take place to keep out children safe!
Although Christopher is a good kid I do fear that if another child asked him to come over he would get off the bus at the wrong stop and if a teacher told him to get in a strangers car he would do it (just like he listened to the teacher who put him on the bus). For this reason, I have chosen to drive him to and from school. I cannot believe that no safety measures have been put in motion! He is not safe in the current car line and I am not comfortable with him taking the bus, so today on the second day of camp, I have decided to keep him home!
I would like to ask the school board to put safety measures in place for this District-sponsored camp! Quickly! Below is my contact information to be available to support other parents or answer any questions that the school board may have. Thank you for bringing this horrible situation to the attention of the community!
In January, our School Board and administration assured the public that the safety procedures of the District were to be thoroughly reviewed and upgraded as needed to keep our children safe. The School Board approved the hiring of Andy Chambers as the safety expert and added $250K to the budget. So what happened yesterday on the first day of summer camp to little Christopher Pecora? Where’s the security? Where’s the safety procedures? How is it possible, that no ID is required by camp staff at the pick-up or any list of approved individuals for pick-up? How is it possible that a child can be ‘assumed’ to be on the bus because the staff cannot find him in the school? A parent expressly (both verbally and in writing) states that her child is to be picked-up and yet he is placed on the bus. Where’s the accountability?
Although the Pecora family is extremely grateful to the Tredyffrin police for reacting quickly, this situation should never have occurred in the first place. What was supposed to be a fantastic first day of camp for a 6-year old turned into a nightmare for the family. This time it all worked out and Christopher was safe but this should serve as a wake-up call — The School Board and administration needs to think about could have happened and make sure that it never happens again. Parents need assurance that the necessary safety measures are put into place immediately for all the summer camp programs.