Council scrutinizes schools' student-release policies

Posted: March 22, 2013

TWO MONTHS after a 5-year-old girl was abducted from her West Philadelphia school, City Council on Thursday held a hearing to examine the school district's policies for early dismissal.

"For every bad thing, something good can come of it. What I hope comes of this is good public policy," said Councilman Curtis Jones Jr., who arranged the hearing. "It's a teaching moment, and all of us are paying keen attention to this issue."

The girl was taken Jan. 14 from Cullen Bryant Elementary, at 60th Street and Cedar Avenue, by a woman who was dressed in Muslim garb and posed as the girl's mother before signing her out of school.

The child was found in only a T-shirt the next morning in an Upper Darby playground. A month later, Christina Regusters, 19, was arrested and charged with kidnapping, conspiracy, aggravated assault and related offenses. Police still are investigating.

"What happened here is unimaginable and unthinkable," said the girl's attorney, Tom Kline. "Policies and procedures that were correct and in place were violated."

The district has since revised its special-release protocol, now requiring identification checks with every special release, said Cynthia Dorsey, the Office of School Safety's chief inspector. Staffers also may ask parents to remove face coverings for identification purposes.

Council members and advocates made a number of suggestions to improve the policy, including establishing a districtwide policy that can be posted throughout the schools, written guardian approval before a child is released, matching systems to compare on-record identification, and communication between courts that handle domestic violence and temporary restraining order cases. Jones said he will follow up on the issue with the district at coming budget hearings.

On Twitter: @Jan_Ransom


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