Uniforms purchased, school supplies ready to be used, classroom donations packed up for the teacher, and the first day of school picture taken right before the final drop off! We inform our young children to wait inside the school gate after school, as someone will be there to pick them up after their first day ends and make plans to sit down and talk about their first day when we get home! All of this is pretty standard for most families, right?
This was not the case for Denise, a mother of three boys and her family. Denise dropped off her youngest son for his first day of second grade at Hodge Elementary School in Azusa, California last week on August 16th, 2018, where she thought her son would be supervised and accounted for. Denise learned Hodge Elementary needs to tighten up its end of the day release policies, after three horrendous hours of the school not knowing where her son was.
Denise’s son, Travis, was supposed to be picked up by his babysitter at 1:15 PM, when the school day was over. When the baby sitter arrived and waited for Travis at the gate, she became worried when he didn’t come out and went in to ask the office staff. The babysitter was told that Travis felt sick earlier in the day and released to his parents at 11 AM. She quickly contacted Denise at 1:24 PM, which put her and Raymond (Travis’s dad) in a panic because neither of them had picked him up nor knew anything about him feeling sick.
As soon as the office staff realized neither of the parents had Travis, the office staff then changed the story and said that they had Travis confused with another child. I don’t know about you but, I was so upset to know the school staff thought it was not a big deal to make this type of confusion, give this information to the babysitter, and then put parents in a panic.
While still at work, Raymond, Travis’s Dad, called the school and asked to speak to Travis’s teacher, Ms. Flores, to get some details on his son’s whereabouts. Ms. Flores told Raymond, a woman had walked up to the gate and advised her that Travis was a walker, and he and another boy named Noah who is in the 1st grade left with this woman in a car. The staff proceeded to call Noah’s parents, but phone numbers on the emergency card were disconnected. A bit later the school staff said that the name Noah, was incorrect. The student he left with was now Noah Ponce.
Before both parents arrived to the school, both parents and step mother, Renee, and friend Vanessa asked the staff numerous times to call the police to file a report, since Ms. Flores was the only one who could identify this “woman.” They were told at that time that it’s something the parent should be doing. The parents could not believe what they were hearing. After several attempts, Denise, Travis’s mother called the police to file a report. She was told at that point the school was also filing a report at the same time.
Travis was now missing for over an hour, his parents are in the office, trying to get answers and information from the school staff. They, like any worried parents, were asking why their son would be released to an unauthorized individual, and the answers they got were outrageous; they were told, “let’s not focus on that, we’re trying to locate the child.”
In addition to the trails of lies, the demeanor, approach and handling by the faculty and staff was simply awful according to several witnesses. Unprofessional is an understatement, there was no compassion, no empathy, and no sense of urgency, everyone was going about their day like it was no big deal.
Raymond asked to speak to the principal, Victoria Velasquez, he wanted answers, he wanted to question all the inconsistencies and misinformation. Get ready for this reply because it was a tough one for me to swallow, the principal told this worried Dad, “I don’t know for sure that there is misinformation. What I do know is that he went out the gate with a person that he acknowledged, and that’s the problem.”
The principal did not take responsibility for the trail of lies and change of stories in the last two hours. No one at that campus could say what time the child left or who he actually left with. The principal simply tried to wash her hands by taking no responsibility.
Denise and Raymond’s son was missing for three hours, and although this does end well, the experience they went through at Hodge Elementary School will never be forgotten.
Denise’s son was located and was safe. Grandpa picked up Travis right when the bell rang. It appeared Grandpa forgot he was told not to worry about the picking up his grandson earlier in the week. Denise found this out on her own without the school’s help, she was the one making all the calls. The school did nothing to support or to show empathy. Instead school personnel took this opportunity to lecture the parents on communication and deflect the blame on them. They focused the conversation on the importance of emergency card accuracy, how does this make any sense? No one at the school knew who Travis left with, no one checked emergency cards at the gate. No one knew Grandpa picked him up. The truth is Travis left the campus unnoticed.
My questions and anger in this entire situation were at a grand scale as Denise shared this horrible incident. I think Hodge Elementary School and other schools should have more precaution when releasing children at the end of the day, especially at the beginning of the school year when everyone is new and people are not fully acquainted. Let’s be real here, what school checks emergency cards when students are picked up on the first day, first week or ever? I know because I have never seen it happen.
I think a good first day of school protocol for all schools, is for parents to send the name of authorized people to pick up children on the first day of school and identification should be checked when any child is picked up. If each teacher does this for their class for the first few weeks until they get familiar with faces, it would help prevent unauthorized adults taking kids.
Denise, Raymond and other parents at Hodge Elementary want Victoria Velasquez, the principal, to take responsibility for the lies and actions, but most importantly they want to see change in the end of the day release practices.
Since nobody at Hodge Elementary helped, Travis’s parents took this battle and their awful experience to Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Ramiro Rubalcaba, thankfully, he seemed to show some remorse and showed empathy. I am anxious to see what the Azusa Unified School District’s next steps are. We want all children to be safe and I wonder if this district wants this too!
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