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Dec 9, 2011 1:43 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Preschooler Found After Wandering Away From Southampton Elementary School

Dec 14, 2011 11:38 AM

A security guard posted at the Southampton Elementary School’s original Pine Street entrance had left his post to use the restroom when a preschooler believed to be 5 years old slipped out the door unnoticed earlier this month and was not discovered missing until Southampton Village Police returned him to the school at least 15 minutes later, unharmed.

Superintendent of Schools Dr. J. Richard Boyes said last week that multiple staff members had been distracted when the young student wandered away, but this week pinpointed the reason as the guard going to the restroom, leaving the door unwatched for an unspecified amount of time. He said the guard had locked the door from the outside.

No staff members face any disciplinary actions by the school for the incident.

The prekindergarten student arrived at the school’s Pine Street entrance with his mother at about 8:45 a.m. on Thursday, December 1, Dr. Boyes said. The mother walked her son to his classroom before leaving, and school staff had acknowledged the student’s presence, he said. Next, the child left the building on his own, unnoticed.

“The child turned around and walked out of the building,” Dr. Boyes said.

According to Southampton Village Police, officers responded to a call that came in at 9:01 a.m. from Cameron Street, a fraction of a mile away from the school, from a woman reporting that she found a 5-year-old child walking around without a parent or guardian. The child told police that his mother had dropped him off at the elementary school and walked him to his class. Officers said they then drove the child, who was unharmed, back to school, returned him to his teacher and notified the superintendent, Southampton Elementary School Principal Bertha “Cookie” Richard and the boy’s mother.

Dr. Boyes noted that he could not guarantee that something like this would not happen again, but said that in the wake of this incident, the district is scrutinizing guard protocol and the security of its 53 doors. “The big thing is if someone leaves their post, as they need to, that they’re immediately to notify the other security guards and focus that person’s attention on that particular entrance,” he said.

Dr. Boyes said last week that the district did not realize the child was missing until police returned him to school. The boy had apparently crossed Pine Street and walked through the nearby parking lot toward Main Street, the superintendent said.

The district immediately started an investigation, he said.

“What we found was that we had instructional and non-instructional staff who were distracted by other things,” Dr. Boyes said last week, adding that it is a busy time of day with many students arriving at that time.

“We’ve taken that matter up with both the instructional and the security staff,” he continued. “They acknowledged that the child came in and they should have paid closer attention, so that’s been dealt with as a personnel matter. Obviously we’re very unhappy that it happened.”

Parents were also unhappy.

“It is very upsetting to think that no one who was in the building knew the child was gone,” said Angela Walker, the president of the elementary school Parent Teacher Organization and the mother of two children in the school, with a third to start next year. “You imagine all the things that could have happened. I imagine every administrator has lost sleep over it.”

When asked why the district did not alert the community about the incident via its Connect Ed messaging system, Dr. Boyes replied that most people did not know the child had been missing in the first place and that the district’s first line of action was alerting the boy’s parent and then conducting an investigation.

“In hindsight, maybe a Connect Ed could have gone out,” he acknowledged. “I think what we’ve learned from this is that parents feel a message should have gone out, and I apologize that in this case that wasn’t done.”

Ms. Richard did not return a phone call or email on Friday.

“We’re mostly focused on keeping people out, but we realize we have to be concerned if a student slips out of the building,” Dr. Boyes said.

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He heard about the kid with whooping cough and said 'I'm outta here!'
By johnj (1024), Westhampton on Dec 9, 11 2:09 PM
2 members liked this comment
Unacceptable. How can he just walk away and no one notices? Aren't all doors monitored? Leaves me with an uneasy feeling that ANYONE can enter and leave undetected. All it takes is a second for disaster to happen.
By fdp (23), southampton on Dec 9, 11 7:28 PM
Wow- Scary! Glad he was unharmed, that is lucky.
By Sd616 (1), Hampton Bays on Dec 9, 11 8:29 PM
Lol ...johnj...but in all seriousness .......it's about time schools are guarded. With real guards protecting the kids . Heads would be ROLLING if that were my kid!!!!!!!
By Biba (566), East Hampton on Dec 9, 11 11:11 PM
1 member liked this comment
There were no guards when I attended Southampton Elementary School...its not a prison, the staff was very attentive, and once you set foot on the grounds, there was someone keeping an eye on you, you definately didnt wander off. A parent drops their child off at their classroom and the child just walks out? What could have possibly been that distracting? Sorry Dr. Boyes...you have to come up with a better explaination than that.
By pstevens (406), Wilmington on Dec 11, 11 10:57 AM
4 members liked this comment
May be he wanted to find the occupy Southampton walk and join in.
By realistic (472), westhampton on Dec 11, 11 2:27 PM
1 member liked this comment
Just unbelievable!!!! TOO MUCH STAFF!!! That's the problem. It's all about them and not the children. There is no excuse for this. Even Dr. Boyes could not came up with a good one for this!
By powerwalker (52), Southampton on Dec 11, 11 9:44 PM
1 member liked this comment
Sounds like the rest of the 'town.. Too much staff, not enough people doing anything.. Cops, teachers, all the people sitting in the town hall..
By The Royal 'We' (199), Southampton on Dec 12, 11 12:21 PM
3 members liked this comment
At least the neighbor was paying attention ! As we know, kids can disappear in the wink of an eye sometimes ( they are like little Houdinis ! ), look at how each summer we lose toddlers to drownings in pools. Thank God this had a happy resolution !
By Bill in Riverhead (190), Riverhead on Dec 12, 11 12:55 PM
2 members liked this comment
Lets see if I have this correct. The child was dropped off at the classroom by his parent and then he just walked out of the building past the well overpaid suedo security people who are suppose to monitor the entrances/exits. How about firing these incompetent people and we can start at the top with the superintendant and then the principal. Too many people doing too little for too much money. Oh I'm sorry they are union people they cannot be fired unlesss their arrested for herion use multiple ...more
By maxwell (169), speonk on Dec 12, 11 2:07 PM
2 members liked this comment
"No staff members face any disciplinary actions by the school for the incident." I'm at a loss for words! What type of an educational system do they have if a 5 year old leaves the school grounds and the teacher doesn't even notice they are gone?
By bonac79 (18), East Hampton on Dec 14, 11 12:11 PM
2 members liked this comment
Dr. Boyes: Time to take some responsibility and stop making excuses. You have an excuse for everything.

The people who were supposed to be doing their jobs, weren't. A five year old who is delivered to his classroom should not be found wandering the streets.
By concerned east ender (49), Sag Harbor on Dec 15, 11 12:53 PM
How far did he get?

How long was he gone?

"At least fifteen minutes?" Two hours is, "at least fifteen minutes".
By lucy2 (63), Southampton, NY on Dec 23, 11 2:42 PM