The number of complaints in New York City concerning public schools leaving students unsupervised in their classrooms is on the rise according to a recently released report.
Special Schools Investigator Richard Condon met twice with Chancellor Carmen Fariña and her chief of staff over the “disturbing” situation. Condon said to date his office has received 142 complaints just within the first four months of 2015 concerning unsupervised children between pre-K and the third grade. One instance saw a kindergartener forgotten during a class trip to a local Chuck E. Cheese’s. Someone eventually realized the student was missing and went back to find him.
Condon described a number of other instances, including one where a first grader walked home without being noticed by any staff during lunch, a kindergartner who left school grounds and was found in a grocery store two hours later, and a 3-year-old who was outside alone, crying “Mommy,” reports Leslie Brody for The Wall Street Journal.
“The complaints ranged in severity from classes left unattended for short periods of time and children left behind in a classroom or bathroom . . . to children dismissed to the wrong adult, to children put on the wrong bus or left on the bus and children who walked out of the building or schoolyard to head home alone,” Condon wrote in a letter to Fariña.
According to Condon, there was one overwhelmingly common theme throughout each and every example – staff members who were not doing their jobs to the best of their ability, writes Aaron Short for The New York Post.
Condon believes the rise in reported instances is due to the highly publicized death of Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic boy who died when he walked out of his school in Queens in October 2013.
The following year, 279 instances of unsupervised students were reported to investigators. A much lower 159 were reported in 2013.
Condon would like to see the Department of Education install alarms in schools, especially in those that have autistic students. In addition, training should be offered to school safety agents pertaining to potential hazards, and additional staff members should be hired to oversee dismissal times, says Condon.
Avonte’s Law was passed last summer by the City Council, requiring the education department and the police to determine which public school buildings would best benefit from outdoor alarms.
Fariña said the city is currently re-training staff members, and a number of door alarms are finding their way into city schools. To date, 11 staff members have been disciplined in such instances, including punishments such as fines, terminations and letters in staff personnel files, and 5 cases are pending.
“We are taking aggressive actions to ensure all students are in safe learning environments,” she said.