SPEAKE, Ala. (WHNT) -A frightning incident at a Lawrence County elementary school Thursday. An 8-year-old student simply walked away from Speake Elementary School, and no one noticed he was gone until his mother brought him back more than an hour later. As you might imagine, his parents are very upset that their son was never missed. We spoke with the child's parents and school officials in an effort to find out how the youngster managed to slip away unnoticed.
Lawrence County School Superintendent Heath Grimes confirmed for WHNT News 19 the boy's class was on their way to the lunchroom Thursday morning. The second grader asked a teacher if he could go to the restroom, and when he came out, he just decided he was going home.
"The rest of the students went into the lunchroom, with approximately 80 other students, and the little boy did not go into the lunchroom when he came out of the restroom. He knew that they were in there, but he left and went out the back door," Grimes said.
Grimes points out the emphasis on school safety has been to keep unwanted strangers out of the schools. "I don't know that since the Newtown tragedy that we haven't looked at our safety plans almost every day to see what we could do better," Grimes said. Admittedly, those plans did not include keeping students in the school.
Speake School is a relatively new facility, with many security measures in place. Doors and windows are locked at all times. Visitors can only enter through the main door and then they enter a secure area. The visitor must identify themselves and have a legitimate reason for being in the school before a second door is unlocked allowing them to enter the school building. However, state law prevents schools, or any public building, from having installed a door that people couldn't get out of if they had to, and that's exactly how the child got out. He opened the door while no one was looking and walked away.
The little boy managed to walk off campus and got across the intersection of Highway 36 and County Road 81. He was walking home when his mother happened by, and took the child back to school.
"It's frustrating that a situation like this has occured, but we know that every day we try to do what's right and reasonable for kids and we think we have those measures in place," Grimes said.
We spoke with the boy's father this afternoon. He tells us he understands the school doors have to be able to be opened from the inside. But he and his wife are upset the teacher never realized their son was missing. Grimes says there was a substitute teacher in that classroom Thursday who simply never realized the boy wasn't where he was supposed to be. He says the confusion apparently stems from the fact the substitute had also gone to the restroom as the students were waiting to enter the lunchroom, asking another teacher to watch the students. The boy asked the other teacher for permission to go to the restroom in the substitute's absence and left the building after all of the others had gone to the lunchroom. Grimes says under the circumstances the substitute teacher is not being held at fault and remains in good standing with the school system.
Grimes says they are taking steps to prevent a reoccurrence. "Our students do have some freedoms and responsibilities, we teach that. But we do need to be aware of who might be a flight risk, and we're now aware of that. I think that's the biggest step in correcting this problem."
-- Al Whitaker