As a new school year is about to begin in Cleveland, the safety of our children is paramount on every parent’s mind. What can you do to ensure the safety of your children as they embark on this new school year?
Clevelanders, as well the international community, are still reeling after the brave escape of three young women who were kidnapped -- one of whom was walking home from school -- and held hostage for years by a Cleveland man, in his home on Seymour Avenue on the near West side of Cleveland. For parents, the scenario is perhaps their most unbearable nightmare.
While this horrific event has sadly served as a wake-up call for parents and children everywhere, there are steps parents and their children can take to try to ensure that safety prevails.
Patrolman William Annandono, of the Mayfield Village Police Department, Mayfield Heights, OH, has an office in Mayfield High School, and has “seen it all.” Officer Annandono suggests that students need to be constantly aware of their surroundings, particularly as they travel to and from school.
The first defense is a good offense. Students who are traveling on foot should walk with a buddy, Officer Annandono says in no uncertain terms. If they don’t have someone to walk with, students should try to walk behind another student, and (this is important) stay on the sidewalk which faces oncoming traffic. This ensures that if a car tries to stop them, the student can run in the direction they are facing, but the potential perpetrator would have to drive in reverse to catch up.
Getting kids to pay attention to their surroundings is more easily said than done, he notes, as kids are often on their cell phones, texting or talking, with their eyes looking downwards, and they are apt to be distracted. It’s important to emphasize to your child that he or she pay attention to what is happening around them, instead of focusing on their cell phones.
In addition, it’s a good idea for students to call a parent or designated contact as they leave school, and follow a specified route. This allows the person at the other end to take note if there is an unexplained delay in the student’s return, and to act accordingly.
If something seems wrong in a student’s routine surroundings, such as an adult who appears to be where they don’t belong, Officer Annandono says kids should not hesitate to “turn and run to the nearest house or safe place.” Then, the police should be contacted and told in detail what the child has observed.
Parents of younger children should teach them to stay within two steps of their parents when they are out in public. If someone tries to distract them and take them, says Annandono, the child should immediately and continually physically resist, and scream as loudly as possible, “You’re not my mother [father].”
For parents whose child takes a bus, try to stay with them until they have gotten on the bus, and be there when they arrive home and get off the bus. If that’s not possible, ask a trusted neighbor to be your eyes and ears. Keep that neighbor’s number on your phone and your child’s, and you and/or your child should contact that neighbor in the event that there is a problem in the everyday routine.
Officer Annando notes that kids who stay late for after-school activities – particularly during the winter months when it gets dark early – need to be extremely cautious. “If someone approaches you or grabs you,” he says, “ run, fight, yell, scream as loud as you can. “ Most of all," he says, if trouble arises, “don’t give up. Never give up.”