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Pierce Egerton
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Back-to-school time is time to guard against abduction

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It was an outrageous case of child abduction. A little girl was taken from her elementary school in Mississippi – multiple times – apparently with the unwitting cooperation of the school staff.

As the start of this school year approaches, the story of these abductions and assaults should serve as a reminder that we should consider the precautions that school personnel, parents and students should take to guard against such a threat.

A federal appeals court has ruled that the school district may be liable for the incompetence that allowed the events to happen.

The lawsuit, filed on behalf of the fourth-grader, said that 6 times during the 2007-2008 school year, the Covington Elementary School released the 9-year-old to a man who then took her from the school and sexually assaulted her. The school district had a check-out policy for students in place. Parents filled out forms that listed adults who were authorized to check out their children.

The man was not on the list. But he checked her out claiming to be her father. Amazingly, he once even signed the child out as her mother. He was later convicted of sexual battery and sentenced to 10 years in prison.

The family’s claim was at first denied in a lower court. But this month the appeals court ruled that the school had a duty to protect the child from harm, but was deliberately indifferent to her safety.

This is course an extreme instance of how a child can be abducted. I would trust that most schools follow their own policies. But this report says that kids are most at risk going to and from school. Some trends:

  • 38 percent of attempted abductions occurred while a child was walking to or from school, riding a school bus or riding a bicycle.
  • 37 percent occurred between 2 and 7 p.m. on a weekday.
  • 43 percent involved children ages 10 through 14.
  • 72 percent of attempted abduction victims were female.

The parents.com website offers more data on where danger zones for abduction tend to be.

Before the first day of school, refresh your kids’ knowledge of how to stay safe. The National Center for Missing & Exploited Children offers a list of 10 precautions to teach children.

    • 1. Teach your children to always TAKE A FRIEND with them when walking or biking, and stay with a group while standing at the bus stop. Make sure they know which bus to ride.

    • 2. Walk the route to and from school with your children pointing out landmarks and safe places to go if they’re being followed or need help. Teach your children they should NEVER TAKE SHORTCUTS and always stay in well-lit areas.

    • 3. It is not safe for young children to walk to and from school, even in a group. Parents should always provide supervision for young children to help ensure their safe arrival to and from school. If your children wait for a bus, wait with them or make arrangements for supervision at the bus stop.

    • 4. Teach your children that if anyone bothers them, makes them feel scared or uncomfortable to trust their feelings and immediately get away from that person. Teach them it is ok not to be polite and IT IS OK TO SAY NO.

    • 5. Teach your children if anyone tries to take them somewhere they should RESIST by kicking and screaming, try to run away and DRAW ATTENTION by kicking and screaming “This person is trying to take me away” or “This person is not my father/mother.”

    • 6. Teach your children NOT TO ACCEPT A RIDE from anyone unless you have said it is ok in that instance. If anyone follows them in a vehicle they should turn around, go in the other direction, and run to a trusted adult who may help them.

    • 7. Teach your children that grownups should NOT ASK CHILDREN FOR DIRECTIONS, they should ask other adults.

    • 8. Teach your children to NEVER ACCEPT MONEY OR GIFTS from anyone unless you have told them it is ok to accept in each instance.

    • 9. Make sure the school has current and accurate emergency contact information is on file for your children and confirm names of those authorized.

    • 10. Always know where your children will be. Teach your children to always CHECK FIRST before changing their plans before or after school. Teach your children to never leave school, with anyone unless they CHECK FIRST with you or another trusted adult, even if someone tells them it is an emergency.