LATHROP — Lathrop Elementary School parents voiced their support for school security cameras that would cost over $73,000 in the wake of an alleged restroom incident involving a young girl attending an after school program Aug. 30.
Parents agreed verbally they would be willing to raise funds to secure the needed cameras as added security for the school and safety of their children.
Concern for their students drew some 80 to 100 parents to a meeting with educators, police and after-school program representatives Tuesday night in the school gymnasium. Lathrop councilman Sonny Dhaliwal had suggested Monday that the city might be willing to share the cost of cameras to help protect children at the school.
Principal David Silveira attempted to calm the parents’ fears and frustrations. He said the scenario of a third grader finding an abusive adult in the girls’ restroom who allegedly gave an inappropriate hand gesture and had asked her to touch him had not been proven saying it is in the hands of Lathrop Police Services detectives.
Silveira confirmed that the girl had reportedly gone to use a school restroom shortly after 4 p.m. while attending one of three after school programs – Give Every Child a Chance. The other two ongoing programs at the time involved the Boys & Girls Club and the Lathrop Kids Club.
The school policy, along with that of the after school programs, is that no child goes to the restrooms alone. They always go with a buddy.
“We don’t know the facts because the investigation is still going on,” Silveira said.
“There’s an allegation that there was an adult male that entered the restroom while this student was in there. Now at this point no one can verify that, whether it happened or it didn’t happen,” he said.
The principal stressed that you always want to believe every child, noting that he has two kids of his own.
Silveira explained what the school has done since the August 30 incident and what they have put in place.
“The first thing they (GECAC) did was to call 911 and then they contacted me. We were out here right away and we put all three programs on lockdown. Whether it happened or not, all three programs were put on lockdown,” he added.
That evening a blanket message was sent to all parents once it had district level approval. Two scheduled meetings were set this week for 3 p.m. Tuesday afternoon and another at 9 a.m. Wednesday to better inform parents of the circumstances and what the school is doing to protect the children.
On Friday Aug. 31, the day after the alleged incident, a staff meeting was held reviewing the school’s safety practices involving gates, visibility/presence, buddies to the restrooms and the use of visitor passes.
Students from kindergarten through fifth grade attended the “Stranger-Danger Focus” program and told if they are confronted by a stranger they are to run, yell and kick if they feel they are being abused or might be taken away.
The sixth, seventh and eighth graders were again told to be aware of their surroundings and be vigilant if they meet a stranger on campus. School administrators that Friday met with members of Give Every Child a Chance, the Lathrop Kids Club and the Boys and Girls Club. They also began having meetings with concerned parents, the principal said.
The following Tuesday, Sept. 4, the school sent “We Tip” notices home to parents offering a reward for up to $1,000 for any information about the man reported to be in the girls’ restroom. A phone number to call with any information was included: 1-800-782-7463. Callers will remain completely anonymous, the school promised.
That same day, five days after the reported occurrence, the school began research on security cameras and the feasibility and cost of installing them on the older campus. The school administrator and a school district technician walked the Lathrop campus to determine the potential locations for the some 10 cameras.
The principal told of a planned “Watchdog Program” that will bring dads on the campus instead of just the moms helping out in the classrooms. If the dads helped out on the playgrounds they would have to be fingerprinted, but if they worked with children and teachers in the classrooms they would be fine while inviting more parents onto the campus to be role models and help build self-esteem among the children.
Silveira asked the parents to be the extra sets of eyes for the students when they are walking home. Parents who hear children screaming or yelling out for help should go to their aid, he said. The principal added that some parents want the campus closed at the end of the school day, but others complain if it is not open.
Several parents were heard complaining when they left the gymnasium saying their concerns had not been answered. The school officials maintained they couldn’t tell them any more until the police investigation had been completed.
Lathrop Vice Mayor Christopher Mateo welcomed the crowd to future city council meetings with their concerns to find what the city fathers can do to help solve their issues.