FALL RIVER, Mass. — School officials announced revised school safety protocols at all elementary schools following a highly publicized incident two weeks ago at Mary Fonseca Elementary School during which two kindergarten students walked out of the building unnoticed during the school day.
The Herald News reported Wednesday that Superintendent Meg Mayo-Brown outlined the revised protocols in a report released today. The report also included a timeline of the incident based on conducted interviews and previous reports obtained from the school and Fall River police.
Mayo-Brown’s latest report calls for consistent procedures at all schools, including requiring that prekindergarten to second grade students walk to and from the nurse’s office with an adult.
“At no time may students younger than second grade travel within the school without adult supervision,” the new procedures state, including errands to the office or to other classrooms.
Older students may visit the nurse accompanied by another student, “provided the classroom teacher first notifies the nurse. Likewise, the nurse will notify the classroom teacher when students are to return.”
Classrooms must utilize a sign-in and sign-out procedure. And students must travel “with a pass that clearly designates their intended purpose.”
Mayo-Brown called for substitute teachers to be thoroughly briefed on procedures for maintaining student head counts, as well as transitions and visits to the nurse.
Both the building principal and substitute teacher are to sign a document indicating the review has taken place.
Mayo-Brown notes in her report that door alarms for all elementary schools are available, and cost $30,000.
Those door alarms would sound when an unauthorized exterior door opens during the school day.
In addition, signs would be placed at those doors to deter students. Elementary school principals would then be expected to conduct safety drills regarding the use of emergency exits.
A substitute teacher was in the kindergarten classroom on March 5, Mayo-Brown reported. One of the students requested to go to the nurse for the third time, and a second student was “randomly selected to accompany the first student as a ‘buddy.’”
After going to the nurse’s office, the nurse examined the first student for arm pain, saw no visible bruise or swelling, but determined because it was the student’s third visit that she should go home. The nurse told the students to go back to class and said she would contact the first student’s mother.
They went from the nurse’s office to the main office. At this point, just before 1 p.m., the mother of the first student had not yet been contacted.
The students were instructed to go back their classroom at this point but reportedly did not return.
The nurse contacted that the first student’s parents at 1:14 p.m. But, according to Mayo-Brown’s investigation, the students had apparently exited the building before that phone call was made.
They left via the door located near the kindergarten classrooms.
Another fifth-grade student, a sibling of the second student, reported to the classroom, because she was also a volunteer classroom helper.
She asked on the whereabouts of her younger sister, with the teacher responding that she was absent. The sibling informed the teacher that it was not true. At that point, a search began. Fonseca Principal Teri White was alerted and radioed all staff around 1:20 p.m.
The mother of the first student reported to the school at approximately 1:25 p.m. and was informed that her student was missing.
White, after learning that one of the students had asked to leave school grounds earlier that day, began searching for students outside of the school in her personal vehicle.
The office clerk alerted police at 1:44 p.m.
The students walked around the rear of the school, to Wall Street, Tobin Street, onto Beattie Street — a nearly 10 minute trip, according to Mayo-Brown.
A woman, referred to as Citizen 1 in Mayo-Brown’s report, was interviewed Monday.
She stated she saw the girls walking on Beattie Street, near Johnson Street.
She then exited her vehicle, approached the students and reportedly asked them where they were going. She was informed, “to their dad’s” as they had lost their mom on the walk back from Burger King.
After a brief conversation, she drove them to an address on Chavenson Street, where it was discovered that the parents were not home.
The woman audio recorded her conversation with the students, asking them why they were alone and not wearing coats. The second said her mother’s name and address and told the woman where she worked.
The woman informed them that she knew her mother and said she was going to call, although not doing so immediately. Instead she took the girls to the Dunkin Donuts shop on Milliken Boulevard, and staff alerted police of the girls’ whereabouts at that time.
Mayo-Brown addressed the status of Fonseca’s surveillance camera system at that point, explaining why there was no available surveillance footage of the incident.
The digital video recording system had been serviced in September 2013, with a second service call placed in December, which is when the system was deemed inoperable. A replacement was supposed to be found and installed, however it wasn’t installed until March 8, three days after the incident.
Keri LaFleur, the mother of one of the two students who had left the building that day, seemed mostly satisfied with the superintendent’s response to the incident.
Some of the protocols being enacted at the city’s elementary schools came up during conversations with Mayo-Brown, said LaFleur, including alarming doors.
“That was a big one for me,” LaFleur said.
LaFleur added that she’s had conversations with her daughter since the incident.
She explained she’s told her daughter, “‘You don’t ever leave school again’… I think she’s gotten sick of hearing me say it,” LaFleur said. “At that age, they’re still learning. Their brains are growing every day. But it’s just so scary.”
LaFleur said she also suggested an assembly to emphasize “the safety concerns of students leaving the school. And they never should get in a vehicle with a stranger.”
LaFleur said she was also informed that some disciplinary action had been taken. LaFleur said the substitute who had been in that classroom no longer works for the district. Other details were not immediately available from School Department officials, however.
“Students that small shouldn’t be walking from classroom to classroom,” LaFleur said. “I think this incident really hit home. No parent wants to get a phone call like that. It’s a parent’s worst nightmare.”