Created on Tuesday, 05 February 2013 Written by REUBEN MEES
Most parents are comfortable with the way Bellefontaine’s Northeastern Elementary School handles dismissal, judging by turnout at a meeting Monday with parents and school administrators’ comments.
Parents of only about eight students showed up — some with concerns about existing custodial issues or civil protection orders — to consider signing up for an alternative sign-out process for their young children.
Only two of those parents — including the original complainant, Jennifer Johnson — signed up for the alternative plans the school offered in the wake of the mother’s complaint.
“It does increase the security of kids being picked up for sure,” Dustin Butler said after filling out the form to allow only three individuals to pick up his first-grade son. “This way not just anybody can come in and get him. I think it’s safer.”
Although no one individual or set of circumstances poses an imminent threat to the safety of his son, Mr. Butler said recent school violence elsewhere and the potential for abduction prompted him to fill out the form, by which he agrees he or anyone on the approved list to pick up his son will show identification inside the cafeteria area.
“It’s better to be safe than to have something tragic happen,” he said. “Hopefully, it will put my mind more at ease.”
He attended the parents’ meeting after Jennifer Johnson, a mother of kindergarten and first-grade students, went public with a story about how she allowed her brother Michael Akers to pick up her children.
Although school district Superintendent Beth Harman and Northeastern Principal Krista Adelsberger disagree with Ms. Johnson’s entire account of how Mr. Akers was allowed to roam the halls freely the day Ms. Johnson alleged the occurrence happened, they called the meeting to gauge parents’ response.
It initially was planned as a group forum to discuss the policy, but after many parents who agree with existing policy said they would attend to speak out in favor, they changed it to an informal one-on-one discussion with parents who still had concerns, the administrators said.
But still some parents like Donnie and Sara Stewart turned out to support the school’s policy.
“They’re doing everything they need to do,” Mr. Stewart said.
“There are more safety concerns with the high school and teens in cars or the middle school and kids walking from there,” Mrs. Stewart said. “There are concerns everywhere in the county and it shouldn’t just be this school.”
The superintendent and principal reassured parents the school is already enforcing CPOs and taking steps to ensure that non-custodial parents do not pick up children without permission of the custodial parent.
Ms. Johnson, who has withdrawn her first-grade daughter from the school and plans to withdraw her kindergarten son, said she was not pleased with the administrators’ response.
“This was pretty much if (parents) want to sign (their children) up, sign them up,” she said, noting that one of her main concerns is about young children being left unattended after leaving the school.
Mrs. Adelsberger said she witnessed the day in question firsthand and said that Mr. Akers did not wander the halls of the elementary school; that Ms. Johnson was present nearby; that the kindergarten teacher was present outside the building until nearly 4 p.m.; and that the first-grade girl was told her uncle was there to pick her up.
Ms. Johnson disputes those claims in both her original complaint in a letter to the Examiner forum and at the meeting Monday.
“I would have been satisfied if I knew my son was being watched, but he wasn’t,” she said. “To tell (parents) teachers will be with their kids is kind of contradictory.”
Regardless, things will change as Bellefontaine’s youngest students prepare to attend the new lower elementary campus under construction, which will open at the start of the coming school year, the administrators said.
High on the list is that most students will be bussed to and from the location east of the intersection of Ludlow Road and Lake Avenue. But access at the only publicly accessible entrance will be controlled via buzzer through the main office.
“It’s just one more reason having these new buildings will alleviate most of these concerns,” Mrs. Adelsberger said. “It will be a much better setup.”