The school bus pulls up in front of the house. The driver pulls the lever and the door squeezes open. The child goes down the steps and heads for the front porch. How long will it be before that child is under adult supervision again? Is a parent or grandparent inside? Or is the house empty? Will young children be staying with young children? Will it be a half-hour, an hour, two hours or more before a parent arrives home? Wanda Mankin, elementary school principal at Graham School, is especially concerned about that scenario this year. Why? In June, Taylor Paschal-Placker, 13, and Skyla Whitaker, 11, were shot to death on a dirt road near Taylor's home. No arrests have been made in their deaths. So Mankin doesn't want to get to the point in August where the bus drops students off at homes with no adult present. Now, I know the latch-key issue has been around for many, many years. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends adult supervision for children until about the age of 11 or 12. But I also know that for many families this isn't possible. But Mankin's statement got me to thinking about how after-school safety should be a concern not only at Graham School, but for parents of children in most every district. And that concern isn't limited to an arrest in this case. It's a day-to-day, year-to-year concern. That led me to take this topic beyond one district. Sure, it's July, but that means parents have time to think and plan before this scenario comes up in August. So I made a couple of calls and did some research that will hopefully make it safer when that bus door opens for the first time of the 2008-09 school year on an August afternoon.
What police recommendOklahoma City police Sgt. Paco Balderrama's first suggestion is to not leave the children alone. "Try to arrange some type of day care with a trustworthy adult,” he said. If that's not possible then arrange with a trustworthy adult, such as a neighbor, to check on the children either by coming by the house or calling. Also, it's a good idea to make other preparations. Make a list of emergency numbers and post it somewhere such as a refrigerator. Phone numbers should include 911, the numbers of neighbors and mom and dad's numbers. Balderrama also suggests giving the children another list, a "don't do” list. "Under no circumstances will you let a stranger in the house,” he said. "Under no circumstances will you give any personal information over the phone. Have them stay away from the stove. Have them make cold sandwiches and Kool-Aid.” Plus, the child should remain in the house until the parents arrive home and they should stay off the Internet. "You don't want them to let someone know they are home by themselves,” he said. "It may be a predator living nearby.”
Wanda Mankin, principal
How to keep your kids safeOnce parents decide that leaving a child alone is how they will proceed, they need to make sure the child knows the tips mentioned by the Oklahoma City Police Department and a few more. •The child should carry his or her key so it is hidden and secure. The name and address should not be on the key. •If the child is walking home, he or she should not walk or play alone en route to the house and definitely should not take shortcuts. •When the child gets to the house, he or she should take a look around for anything suspicious. •Once in, the child should lock the door. •Next, the child must call a parent or another trusted adult to report the safe arrival. •Remind the child to call again if needed. Source: National Center for Missing & Exploited Children