A friend just moved his family — including school-aged children — into San Francisco. This week on the first day of classes, when the time came to greet the two children coming home on the school bus after their initial SF school experience, things didn’t go quite right.
The school bus came, but the kids weren’t on it. The bus driver claimed absolute ignorance of the boys, aged 6 and 11. The parents’ had been fighting the vision of predators waiting for children in the big city, but that nightmare suddenly moved into the front of their minds.
One parent’s excited call to the school asking about the children was greeted with the news that the school was busy and would call them back in 5 minutes. After 15 minutes no call came about the missing children. One parent went back to answer the phone while the other went to the school. The school office was seemingly unconcerned and unhelpful. They knew the kids didn’t go on the bus, they had no idea where the kids were, and they were busy with important work.
Twenty-five years ago when I was a police dispatcher in Long Beach, California missing juveniles were a top-priority call. The 1970’s Long Beach wasn’t exactly a backwater town without crime, and I worked for the Police Department not a school agency. Yet, we would immediately dispatch at least two units when we heard that children of 6 and 11 were lost, even for minutes, even when they were from families in the housing projects or in other “bad areas”. The fights, muggings, and shootings were bounced off the airwaves as we broadcast on all of the city’s radio frequencies the circumstances and description of a “920 critical missing juvenile”.
For a school to loose two children that young and then not react is numbing. It is repulsive to my moral standards.
The parent at the school got little attention until some other people in the room identified themselves as reporters and camera operators for a local news organization. The media representatives were there on a different story, but saw the opportunity to jump to a more newsworthy first-day-of-school vignette. A good thing for my friend.
As soon as the school staff heard “Chronicle” the officials started paying attention to the lost children complaint. They tracked the kids end of day. They discovered that a teacher had directed the children to a wrong bus. They later found out that the bus driver on the wrong bus recognized that he had two misplaced children, so he turned his bus phone off so he wouldn’t be directed back to the school before his route had been completed. He was going to deliver the kids back to school and show how the children themselves had made the wrong choice of buses.
The children and parents (and reporters) were reunited without more trauma. The 6-year-old didn’t want to go on the bus the next day, but by the end of the week had pretty much forgotten the excitement.
The school’s main after-event response was to phone my friend’s house and ask if he knew what the reporters planned to do with the information and video they gathered. My friend doesn’t know if the incident will be mentioned in the press, but did manage to tell the school that everyone — the kids, the family, and the school — played a part in the afternoon’s events which, he implied, was in the public record. He was not ashamed of his parental behavior.
My friends remain worried. As my friend asked me, what happens next time when there’s not a Chronicle reporter standing by?
I remain worried. If the schools’ personnel are this caviler about a missing 6-year-old and and missing 11-year-old on their first day of school in a strange city, who is looking after our children?
I am hopeful that in the fullness of time and investigative reporting that the Chron figures out how to properly publicize how a school loses two children and reacts with uncaring bureaucracy. More importantly, I am hopeful that people we entrust our children to prove loving and worthy of our trust.