ASHEVILLE, N.C. (WLOS) — The biggest child custody problem is parental interference.
It became a real issue for Henderson County schools in March when a non-custodial parent allegedly kidnapped her daughter from Flat Rock Middle School.
Selena Bishop is charged with felony child abduction.
A school system like Henderson County has 13,500 students going to and from school every day.
School officials said the front desk staff are literally the gate keepers and the key to keeping everyone safe.
“Y’all need some help over here?” questions mom Debra Kuykendall.
“He’s too big,” yells her daughter Ella as they play at Hands On! in Hendersonville.
Kuykendall knows trusting someone else with your child is never easy.
“Maybe I’ll get her temperature while you do that huh?” she asks her daughter’s friend who’s come out with them.
Second-grader Ella Kuykendall recently traded her home classroom for Hillendale Elementary, unnerving mom, Debra.
“It was a big thing to let go of that. I’ve always been in control of her education so,” said Kuykendall.
Kuykendall still supervises drop off and pick up.
“We just have a cardboard paper with her name on it and her grade, and, when I get there, they call her name to come out,” said Kuykendall. “They have several people standing guard that are there every day, they know, they’re familiar with who picks up who.”
In March, a 12-year-old Flat Rock Middle School student’s non-custodial parent removed her without permission from Flat Rock Middle School, leading to a child abduction charge. That’s when another parent with custodial concerns asked News 13, “how can schools safeguard students in situations like this?” We took it to the district.
“While a custody order or custody agreement is really an arrangement between the parents and the court, schools are often responsible for maintaining that, adhering to that in that respect, so it is very much a part of our children’s lives,” said Dr. John Bryant, Henderson County Schools Associate Superintendent for Administrative Services.
News 13 questioned, what’s to stop somebody who maybe shouldn’t be taking a child from school, from putting that child’s name in the car, driving through the line and picking that student up?
“Well, the placard system is often times school-issued and pretty specific. I can give you an example from my own experience as a school principal. We were the ones that printed those cards. Often they have a water mark or something very specific, a font or a color that is unique to that year,” said Bryant.
News 13 then questioned, if school staff doesn’t recognize somebody, what is the protocol?
“Someone may arrive, for example, who a school staff doesn’t recognize or might have concern about. Typically, what happens is in those car check out systems, someone arrives who doesn’t have the card. That person is directed to park their vehicle. They’re directed to go inside,” said Bryant.
Bryant continued, “At an elementary school, we’re dismissing directly to an adult. If you go to a middle school, you’ll see in the afternoon as students are leaving in a car rider line, they are kind of responsible for identifying the adult they’re responsible for leaving with. In a high school, you might see students leaving themselves.”
That’s for after school car riders. But News 13 also wanted to know what happens when someone checks a child out early? School policy requires them to show their IDs.
About half of Henderson County Schools have additional layers of security, in the form of the Ident-A-Kid system. It was installed at Flat Rock after the pickup problem in March.
“There’s a database that it goes through to determine if there’s any type of legal issue or if they’re a predator of any sort,” said Flat Rock Middle Interim principal William Reedy.
It checks criminal background and child safety databases. But schools can’t set it to watch for unauthorized pickups. That falls to office staff and another state system.
News 13 questioned, the district has thousands of kids, though, so how do you keep up with all of that information?
“The way that we keep up with that is making sure parents again know the importance of communicating that to us, regular and ongoing training with our staff and we’re very fortunate to have student information systems that allow us to keep that information and provide alerts where necessary,” said Bryant.
Bryant said parents with custodial concerns can opt to skip the line altogether and set up an in-school pick up, regardless of age.
Henderson County Schools are evaluating whether it’s worth putting the Ident-A-Kid system in all schools. Schools without Ident-A-Kid use Google Docs or an I-Pad to sign kids in and out.
School doors at Henderson County Schools are also locked, and News 13 found schools asking parents to identify themselves before being allowed into the building.