Budget cuts blamed for lack of security
The School District of Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Police Department say they followed proper protocol in their respective immediate reactions to the news that two students darted out of M. Hall Stanton School, a K-7 at 2539 N. 16th St. in North Philly.
According to the Philadelphia Police, the six- and five-year-olds walked out of the classroom on Wednesday Oct. 17, and shortly thereafter, the kindergarten teacher notified the front office.
“[School officials] searched the school, and were unable to find the children,” said police spokeswoman Christine O’Brien. “They then looked at surveillance and saw they walked out of the school and headed northbound on 15th Street. Their parents and Philadelphia Police were then notified. Their homes were checked, and we checked with stores and pedestrians they encountered on the way.
“After a survey of the area, officers were notified that [the children] were walking toward a subway stop [the Broad and Allegheny Avenue stop on the Broad Street Subway], and at that point, they did conduct a search of the subway,” O’Brien continued. “School police found them walking westbound on Allegheny Avenue, transported them back to school and reunited them with their parents.”
O’Brien said should any city police officer spot any youth on the streets (or subway) during school hours, then those officers would certainly confront the youngster.
“For any kids not in school during school hours, officers would certainly inquire, because we do have truants,” O’Brien said. “So if you’re an officer – or even just an adult – you’d grab them, ask them where they are going. So if an officer spotted them, regardless of if the officer was notified or not, I’m sure the officer would have spoken to them.”
In the confusion that immediately followed, several news outlets incorrectly reported that the two missing students were located on the SEPTA subway platform. SEPTA spokeswoman Jerri Williams said that simply isn’t true and isn’t sure where that rumor came from.
“We have no indication that these two children were ever on a SEPTA train. Police officers said they located them at Allegheny Avenue and 15th Street,” said SEPTA Spokeswoman Jerri Williams. “They were found on the street, and might have been near a stop, but they weren’t on a train - and no SEPTA employees indicated the children were on the train.
“Nothing we have confirms or even indicates they were on the train.”
Similar to Philadelphia Police, SEPTA Police and other transit employees would be alarmed at the sight of two very young children alone at a transit stop and would make inquiries.
“I would think, if a SEPTA employee, cashier or officer saw the children, they would do what any normal citizen would do,” Williams said, “which is stop them, ask where their parents are and where they are going.”
Due to drastic budgetary cuts by the school district that have all but eliminated every non-mandated service, program or initiative, instead of having a security guard or other personnel guarding Stanton’s front exit, the school has had to rely on parent volunteers to fill that role. It just so happens that the volunteer stepped away a few moments before the two children made their getaway.
District spokesman Fernando Gallard confirmed the sequence of events as described by the Philadelphia Police, but added a few more details, including that the district appreciates the work done by parent volunteers, and that this situation is no way an indictment of them.
“A review of the incident does show that the children ran out of the classroom, and the teacher did see them leave. She then called the front office for assistance – which is the protocol [teachers] have to follow because teachers cannot leave a kindergarten classroom unattended,” Gallard explained, noting the next steps are to contact the police and initiative a search of the premises. “They were found safe and sound, but it’s very disconcerting for us to have kids at that very tender age run out of schools and into the streets.
“We are reviewing the safety process in schools to make sure we tighten up anything that needs to be tightened.”