By Bob Skolnik
A special needs student at L.J. Hauser Junior High School managed to leave the building, apparently through a front door, without a coat during the school day two weeks ago and was found a couple blocks away by a passing motorist, who flagged down a police officer to return the cold girl to school.
Joel Hastings, a Riverside father of five daughters, including a Hauser eighth grader, was driving near the intersection of Forest and Longcommon on the afternoon of Jan. 21 when he saw the girl heading north along Longcommon. Hastings told the Landmark that he saw the girl cross in the middle of street.
The girl was coatless on a cold day so Hastings decided to stop to help the girl and see if she was all right, even though he did not know her.
"She told me she was going home. I said, 'Honey it's too cold.'"
The high temperature that day was 20 degrees.
Hastings had started to call the police when he saw and flagged down Riverside Police Officer Eric Katzin.
Katzin returned the girl to Hauser and Hastings followed along.
"They were looking for her," Hastings said. "They were distraught."
According to the police report, the girl has an aide assigned to her while she is in school. Typically the aide is with the girl at all times during the school day, but recently the girl's parents and school officials had a meeting and decided to give the girl a bit more independence while in school. They decided that the aide would hang back a little instead of constantly following the girl around.
The police report states that the girl's parents met with school officials the next day and decided that they would work together to take steps to prevent something like this from happening again.
The Landmark reached out to Hauser Assistant Principal Stacy Westin, District 96 Interim Special Education Director Peggy King and Superintendent Bhavna Sharma-Lewis asking for comment about this incident, but did not hear back from anyone prior to press time.