By Francis Scarcella
The Daily Item
SUNBURY — A kindergartner using a bathroom pass left Grace Beck Elementary School on Wednesday, setting off a frantic search by police and 12 Shikellamy district employees before the girl was found 30 minutes later and nearly a mile away.
The girl walked away from the school at 600 Arch St. and was discovered by a passing security guard at Weis Markets at 1100 N. Fourth St., officials said.
The kindergartner, Beck Principal Susan Giberson said, asked to go to the bathroom, then left school grounds.
“During the transition between lunches, she asked for a bathroom pass and she slipped out the side door,” Giberson said. “We spoke with people and her (the student’s) intent was to go to the bathroom, but she made it out the door, and there are no alarms, so when she didn’t come back we began to search.”
Teachers began to search and immediately notified police, Giberson said.
“Within minutes, police were called and I notified the district office on what was happening,” she said. “As we were still talking with police, they said a security guard at Weis Markets discovered the student in the parking lot. She even still had the bathroom pass on her.”
District Superintendent Pat Kelley said the incident lasted about 30 minutes.
“It is a shame and unfortunate this has happened,” Kelley said. “Our staff responded well and we are glad no one was hurt.”
Once the girl was reported to have been missing, Giberson said she called to view video surveillance.
“We spotted her going out the side door,” she said. “Once a person leaves the school, they can’t get back in unless they use the buzzer.”
Kelley was unclear why the girl left, but said he didn’t want public perception to be the “district or school was at fault.”
“It is always assumed we (the district) did something wrong,” Kelley said. “But in this case the school did everything they could do and then some. We had 10 to 12 people outside looking for her. The teacher was in tears. We were very proactive.”
The girl’s parents were notified immediately. Once the kindergartner was found, police brought her back to the school and she finished the school day, Kelley said.
Beck Elementary on Thursday conducted drills, Kelley said, showing students how to ring the door buzzer if they are outside and can’t get in to the school.
Other districts say they have plans in place to handle comparable situations in their schools.
In Selinsgrove, schools do not have structured hall monitoring between classes.
Any student who leaves class and does not return after a reasonable period of time would raise concern, Superintendent Chad Cohrs said.
“The teacher would notify the office, who would begin a search for the student and depending on the situation, that may involve a phone call home to notify a parent that your child is unaccounted for,” he said.
The school, however, would not go into lockdown, Cohrs said, noting that wandering students are scarce.
“Students rarely would leave the school building,” he said.
Similar steps would be put into action at Milton, said Brian Ulmer, the district’s director of secondary education.
Once a student is reported missing, Ulmer said, school officials would verify building and class attendance; report to police and the district’s school resource officer, parents and the district office; search building and grounds; and investigate with classmates and friends of the student.
Email comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Staff reporter Ashley Wislock contributed to this report.