AMITE, La. -- The security of what’s getting in to schools with students is tightly monitored at many schools in the metro area. But what about who is getting out of schools with students?
Eyewitness Investigates looked into check-out procedures in Tangipahoa Parish schools after parent concerns came in to Eyewitness News.
One of those parents is Floyd Stokes, who was unhappy with the outcome of a trip to Independence High School last month to pick up his daughter, who was sick.
"I went in to get her," Stokes said. "They told me just sign the check out paper and I asked them, 'That's all?' And the lady said yes."
Stokes said there was no request for an ID and no check of his authorization to have access to the student, until he pointed out to the staff and principal how dangerous that was.
"I said no one should be able to walk into this school and just sign a check-out paper and they just walk out with a student,” said Stokes, “They need to show some kind of I.D."
Stokes was hoping to see the school got the message when he picked up his daughter this week, and Eyewitness News tagged along to find out.
"Yes my daughter called me, Hannah Stokes, to check her out,” he tells a school staff member, “'Hanna Stokes?' Yes, she not feeling good."
After a call on the loud speaker, the staff member said, “There you are, alright, fill out the sign-out book."
Another staff member asks the student, “You called home for him? Is that your dad?” Stokes’ daughter answers, “Yes ma'am."
Dad and daughter walked out of the school without an ID check or authorization verification after that.
"I feel like they really didn't care and I felt like unless someone bring this to their attention that they're not going to change their policy unless some child end up dead or raped," said Stokes.
Shevall Cornett said she’s experienced the same lax check-out procedures at Ponchatoula High School, as well as other questionable procedures, that she says allowed her mother to un-enroll her 15-year-old without her permission.
"I never received a call, they never verified the information was correct or true," said Cornett, “Once I found out, my son was in another state."
The Tangipahoa Parish Sheriff’s Office said Donna Baham was arrested for simple kidnapping in connection with the custody case, while an arrest warrant has been issued for Cornett’s ex-husband, who she said took her son to Minnesota.
"I want to raise the awareness so other parents can know what can happen so you won't be a victim like me," she said.
So Eyewitness News documented Cornett, who made a phone call to the school, identifying herself as a friend, asking to check her friend’s daughter out. Without any questions other than the students full name, minutes later, the student walks out of the school to be checked out by someone that never stepped foot in the school.
"If someone can just pick up the telephone and just make a phone call to check your child out, how do know they're safe?" said Cornett.
The school district says it's surprised with what Eyewitness News found, especially since, it says, a majority of the complaints it gets about check-out security is that it's too strict.
"Sometimes they feel like it's Fort Knox, the procedure they have to go through in order to get their child checked out," said Tangipahoa Parish School Superintendent Mark Kolwe.
Cornett acknowledges great security at her daughter’s Tangipahoa Parish elementary school.
"When you come in, they look at your documentation that you have, they make sure the picture matches your face, they look at the name, the address, things of that sort. And even when the child comes in they ask, who is this person," she said.
The district administration maintains it was unaware of any of the issues before they were brought up in this story. The school district says it allows each campus to set its own procedures and will remind every school to enforce those procedures because of our findings.
The superintendent urges parents, if there are any concerns in the future, to contact the district’s administration, in addition to the school.