In light of an alleged incident involving a man making advances toward a 6-year-old child on school grounds, Whitehall school and law enforcement have plans to beef up security.
The district will have more teachers monitoring the playground during recess and before and after school hours, and they will begin enforcing a stricter visitor policy, according to Britt McLean, vice principal of Whitehall’s high school. The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department will step up its coverage of the area, especially on Halloween, Deputy Michael Wharton said Tuesday.
McLean released a statement regarding the alleged incident.
According to McLean, a man approached a 6-year-old child Friday after school near the bus drop-off area of the school grounds. The man allegedly told the child he wanted to get to know him better, and that he had talked to the child’s father, who said it was OK. The child’s father died three years ago. The boy got on the bus and told his parents when he got home.
McLean said two teachers as well as numerous paraprofessionals were outside monitoring the students at the time. None of the adults saw the man or the incident.
The man was described as skinny, in his 40s or 50s, wearing a black baseball cap with white lettering, a black jacket with white lettering and baggy black pants. The man was reported to have a short growth of white whiskers or a mustache. The space between his eyes was described as “flat.”
McLean said the school district is working to tighten security for the children. He said personnel discussed several changes at a staff meeting Tuesday morning, including increasing the number of teachers on the playground during recesses and the pick-up and drop-off periods of the day.
Wharton said there will be a “slight up-step” in the number of patrols in Whitehall, especially over Halloween. He said more patrols are planned around the hours when children are going to and coming from school.
Some parents are hoping to organize a group of parents who will patrol the school area during recess and other times around the school day.
Annissa Hastie, a Whitehall parent, said she and other parents are disappointed with the school “not taking (the issue) seriously or with as much attention as they should.”
“There has been no email, no mass memo sent out,” Hastie told The Montana Standard Tuesday afternoon. “I bet 75 percent of parents are unaware” of the incident.
McLean said he posted the statement on the website on Tuesday afternoon, and mailers containing the statement and description of the alleged offender were sent home with kids. He added that he had just learned of the incident on Monday.
Hastie said the man will likely go away if he knows people are looking for him.
“Help comes en masse,” she said. “Odds and probabilities are, he’s either going to get scared and leave or one of us is going to catch him.”