Last week was a busy, stressful mess around here. I wasn’t in a writing frame of mind, although I saw many news stories that would usually prompt me to write. There was one story that haunted me all week long. “Mom Irate After 5 Year Old Picked Up From School By Stranger.” Stranger Danger kept echoing in my mind.
All week long, I kept thinking these two things.
1. Could this happen at my kids’ school?
2. Could this happen to one of my boys?
You may have heard this story. Great Grandpa goes to the school to pick up his grandson – let’s call him Billy. Grandpa follows the school’s procedure by going to the office, showing ID and signing Billy out. It’s the end of the day; Billy is already outside waiting to get on the bus.
The school, lacking a solid stranger danger policy, tells Grandpa to go out to the bus area and pick Billy up. In a sea of chaos with kids bundled up in coats and hats, he finally finds Billy, tells him that his mom is sick, so he’s picking him up. When they get to Grandpa’s house, Billy won’t get out of the car. Grandpa goes inside to get Grandma; When they come out and take off Billy’s hat, they discover it’s not Billy at all. Instead they have a frightened little Johnny.
This story has bothered me for days. If you are a parent, if you have an active imagination, or worse yet, if you are like me and fall into both categories, you can imagine 50 different ways this could have been disastrous. This time, it wasn’t. It was honestly the case of a Grandpa making an innocent mistake.
What I keep thinking though is “why did that kid get into the car with a stranger?” There were teachers, bus drivers and other students around. Sure, the old man told this kid his mom was sick, so the kid was supposed to go home with him…and the kid did. No protest. No verifying with a known adult. No stranger danger warning going off in Billy’s head. This is what scares me more than anything else.
For me, this was a reminder that I hadn’t talked to my kids about stranger danger for a while. A reminder will never hurt. I think my boys know enough to not go with a stranger, but I want to make sure. I used this as an opportunity for me to talk to them, go through some scenarios , and try to beat into their heads to never go with a stranger.
This mistake was allowed to happen due to poor policies on the school’s part. No one made sure the right kid was picked up. They left it up to a stranger to go pick up whichever kid, or even how many kids they wanted to pick up. In fact, the school didn’t know there was a problem until Grandma called and told them what happened. The school workers then told the grandparents to just bring Johnny back to school.
The school then dropped the ball again. Johnny’s older siblings got off the bus at their house, and of course, Johnny wasn’t with them. I’m sure Johnny’s mom was frantic when she called the school. It was only then that the school told her of the mistake. After Grandpa got back to the school with Johnny, the school put him on an empty bus and took him home, just like it was business as usual.
The school is responsible for keeping our kids safe, and this schools lack of solid stranger danger policies was the problem. I understand they are in the process of changing their policies. I just think we should all use this as the learning opportunity.
For just a second, consider the following questions for yourself, and remind friends and family to consider them as well.
- Could this happen at your child’s school?
- Does your child’s school have solid procedures in place so something like this, or something much more sinister, can’t happen?
- Could a stranger be convincing enough that your child would willingly go with them?
Stranger danger is a reality. Poor policies at schools are sometimes a reality as well. Being proactive now may prevent a horrifying situation later.