Officials at an Oregon elementary school sent a letter home threatening to call authorities if parents pick their kids up late. (Photo: Corbis/Kevin Dodge)
A letter that went out to families at an Oregon elementary school had some parents up in arms in this week — and fearing for what would happen should they arrive a few minutes late to student pick-up.
The letter, which was sent from office staff at Swegle Elementary School in Salem, was intended to be a reminder about school procedures for the upcoming academic year. But for some parents, one line in particular jumped out: “Children must be picked up on time. If they are not picked up on time, we will call DHS [Department of Human Services] and you will then have to pick them up at court the next day.”
Another line, this one about the timing of morning drop-off, included similar language: “Please do not drop your children off before [7:40 am]. There will not be any supervision. If children are dropped before 7:40 the staff will call the authorities.”
This letter, sent to parents of students at Swegle Elementary School, said that DHS would be called if kids weren’t picked up on time. (Photo: Chelsea Eichenauer/Facebook)
On Thursday, Chelsea Eichenauer, whose 5-year-old son Mason will attend Swegle Elementary in the fall, posted the letter, dated June 24, on her Facebook page. She included the note: “Anyone else think this is crazy?! Way too extreme!”
“My heart kind of skipped a beat a little bit, it’s pretty scary,” Eichenauer told KOIN News. “It would traumatize my little boy to death if he couldn’t come home one night.”
Eichenauer didn’t respond to Yahoo Parenting’s request for comment.
In response to Eichenauer’s Facebook post, fellow parents expressed concern. “If they would put your child through that scary of a situation (‘Oops, your bad mom is 3 minutes late. I’m taking you to the CRC center and you have to stay overnight with people you don’t know, kids you don’t know, and you can’t see your family until the morning’) think of what unimaginable things they could/would be doing to your child,” wrote one parent.
“I would be putting my kid in another school,” added another commenter. “Especially if they plan on putting any child through that type of stress.” Yet another critic noted, “Of course people want to pick their kids up on time but sometimes things happen.”
In an email to Yahoo Parenting, Salem-Kaizer Public Schools communications director Jay Remy said the letter should have never been sent to parents, and that the principal of the school sent a phone message to parents last night apologizing for the letter and any concern it may have caused.
“The school office staff sent the letter out without review and approval from the principal. The letter contained information on a variety of topics for next school year. It also included a statement about calling DHS if the parents were late picking the kids up. This was not the right message,” Remy said. “It should have said that parents should call the school if they will be late picking up their kids. If a parent calls and says they have car trouble or something, there is no problem. The school staff will supervise their child until someone picks them up. The scenario of calling DHS would only come into play in extreme cases, when the parents are not in contact with the school and the child has nowhere to go when the school staff need to go home to their own families in the evening.”
Remy said the principal will be following up with another letter later this summer.
Despite the apology and retraction, it’s not surprising that some parents would take this threat seriously. There have been a number of cases lately in which child protection services were called in to detain children whose parents had left them unsupervised for short periods of time. In Florida last month, for example, officials placed two brothers into foster care and then into the care of a relative after one of the boys, 11, was found playing basketball alone in his own yard. In another highly publicized case, parents Danielle and Alexander Meitiv were investigated for neglect after letting their two children walk home alone from a local park. And in Canada, an 11-year-old was detained at the Lego Store for being an unaccompanied minor.
“I didn’t know if I had five minutes to pick him up, or if they were going to call DHS 10 minutes after the bell rings,” Eichenauer told KOIN News. And as for the apology, she said, it may have been too little too late. “They didn’t bother [apologizing] until enough people called it to their attention.”