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Last week a Brunswick County special needs student was left behind in a Wilmington park after stopping there with his South Brunswick High School class on a field trip.
Luckily for him and his family, the Good Samaritans who found 16-year-old Tad Speidell made sure he was safely left in the custody of Wilmington police. These people are heroes in a day filled with unacceptable, unimaginable mistakes.
This story could have played out in a much more tragic way, and we are thankful it did not. But Tad’s safe return does not diminish the severity of all the things that went wrong that day.
While Tad’s caregivers allege they gave permission for him to go on a trip to a local horse barn for therapeutic riding, they say they had no idea the trip included a stop at a community park.
The five adults overseeing this trip erred in straying from an agenda presented to parents, and doing so potentially put all students involved at risk.
But the most frightening part of this ordeal is how five trained adult school representatives were completely incapable of noticing a child was missing from their group. What happened to an old-fashioned head count? What happened to following the district’s policy of checking the pre-established seating chart?
Most importantly, what happened to being alert and vigilant for the care of children you’ve been assigned to oversee? How on earth can five adults travel all the way from Wilmington to SBHS without one of them noticing a missing child, especially in a group as small as this one?
And why, when it was noticed the child was missing, weren’t his caregivers immediately notified something was wrong? School officials should have made that important call right away, not some three hours later as Tad’s caregivers allege.
We don’t expect perfection from the people hired to care for and educate children, but we do demand basic accountability. When it comes to caring for children—especially special needs children—there is no margin for error.
Schools are funded by tax dollars, which means Brunswick County citizens ultimately pay the salaries of those entrusted to educate students here. That brings about a basic expectation these individuals will keep children safe. Without exception, that expectation should be followed through.
As a result, how can parents now feel confident in knowing their children will be safe when released into custody of the school system? How can they know something like this won’t happen again?
The only answer, we think, is for the five individuals involved in this incident to be relieved of their duties immediately.
By resigning, these five can take responsibility for their careless actions, or if they fail to do so, the school board should move to terminate them immediately.
But the district’s responsibility doesn’t end there. School administrators must make sure all staff is versed in a clearly defined procedure that will eliminate the chances of this happening again. That should include a step-by-step guide for field trip chaperones.
This is a mistake that can’t be repeated. There is no excuse for losing a child.