FARMINGTON — Granite School District and the West Valley City Police Department are both denying responsibility after two 10-year-old boys were left alone at Lagoon following a department-sponsored school field trip.
The field trip was an end-of-year event for the Safety Patrol sponsored by the West Valley City Police Department in conjunction with the Honorary Colonels Association, a nonprofit devoted in part to developing interest in and understanding of city law enforcement. Transportation to the park for students from about 20 different schools was provided by the Granite School District.
When the time came for students to leave the park, two boys could not be located. One boy had previously said he wanted to stay late and did not return to the predetermined meeting location, according to Granite School District spokesman Ben Horsley.
A permission slip obtained by ksl.com states that "buses will be loading promptly to and from and will not wait for students who are late."
When the boys did not show up to the meeting location, volunteers contacted the boys' parents and Lagoon security while searching for the boys, Horsley said. After waiting for nearly an hour, the buses left without the two students.
Officer Dale Ann Wright, the event coordinator for the police department, said she stayed at the park until about 7 p.m., when the boys' parents arrived to pick them up.
"I went in and discussed what was going on with security. At that point, the boys had not checked in with them," Wright said. "But I didn't leave the park until well after the buses left. I waited until their parents came to pick them up."
Renee Chavez, the mother of one of the students who was left behind, acknowledged signing the permission slip, but said she felt it had been irresponsible for the buses to leave without her son.
"It's the worst nightmare for a parent," she said. "You don't know where your son is. You think, 'What can I do? You can't even process that."
Preston Vaccaro, the father of the second student, said the incident was the fault of the boys for choosing not to return to the meeting place on time and said he did not blame the district or the police department.
The police department helped with tickets and to organize the event, but "all other aspects, including the transportation ... oversight and supervision of the children, that's all handled by the individual schools and the school district itself," said Deputy Chief Mike Powell with the West Valley City Police Department, despite Wright having stayed until the children went home.
"The children remain the responsibility of however the schools have facilitated the oversight of those children, just like any other field trip," Powell said. "That's not the police department's responsibility, nor the honorary colonels' responsibility."
The event was not standard field trip, though, because it took place on a Saturday. Chaperones for the event were provided on a volunteer basis and were not the responsibility of the district, Horsley said. The school district cannot require employees to work outside of contracted time without paying them a stipend, and could not have required volunteers to remain with the students without requiring background checks. Horsley said if it had been a school-sponsored function, someone would have been required to stay behind and locate the missing children.
He said incidents such as this one are difficult for the school district because the rules were disclosed on the permission slip.
"It's things like this that make us question whether we want to provide transportation for this anymore because we have parents who ... sign and acknowledge that they've read the rules, that their kid understands the rules of the program, and then come back and try to put it back on us that we did something wrong in this case," he said.
Video contribution: Ashley Kewish