THE CASE OF KYRON HORMAN, a second-grade Oregon student missing from school since June 4, 2010, has generated international attention. The seven-year-old never arrived in his classroom after attending a science fair with his stepmother at his Portland elementary school.
An unusual student disappearance, unexcused student walk-away, or report of a stranger at an elementary campus creates anxiety, fear, and often panic in a school community. Underreaction or delayed reaction can heighten parental stress. Overreaction and knee-jerk decisions can result in over-the-top security measures creating the perception of, but not necessarily the reality of, increased safety.
School administrators can take a number of steps to protect elementary students.
1. Enhance supervision. Good supervision practices prevent students from causing harm to themselves or others. They also reduce the risks of harm being perpetrated against students by third parties with ill intentions.
I recently conducted a security assessment at an affluent private school for 45 minutes prior to the start of the school day. No staff members supervised the drop-off areas. Although a number of school employees walked past us, no one asked us who I was or why I was there. This lack of supervision is often present in cases where preventable accidental or intentional harm occurs to students.
Supervision is also a frequent focus of litigation cases against school officials. Administrators and staff should maintain clearly delineated supervision plans for all times students are on campus. Heightened attention should be given to higher-risk times such as student drop-offs and pick-ups, cafeteria meal times, class changes, student restroom breaks, before and after-school activities and throughout special events.
2. Stay on top of custody issues. Noncustodial parent issues top many elementary school principals' concerns. Many schools require copies of court orders for student files when custody conflicts arise. Secretaries are often highly alert and flag the files of students with custody orders. Staff members with a need-to-know are made aware of these cases. Having current photos of students in high-risk custody situations is also prudent, as is having a photo, physical description and vehicle description for high-risk noncustodial parents. …