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Jamaica parents warned of sex incidents

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It was standing room only in the auditorium of PS 223 last Thursday night as concerned parents and community members met with School Board 27 to discuss a series of incidents in which approached children on their way to school last week.

City Councilman Allan Jennings (D-Jamaica) led the charge, announcing that there are 26 convicted sexual predators living in southeast Queens and asking the board to institute a policy prohibiting students below the sixth-grade level from leaving school without a parent or authorized adult.

The discussion on sexual offenders came after a number of incidents were reported to school and police officials. Capt. John Essig, commanding officer of the 113th Precinct, said three incidents had occurred within his jurisdiction in the previous week.

Two 10-year-old boys from PS 223 were offered a ride to school by a man in a white car, but they ran to the school and reported it to the principal, Essig said. Another man exposed himself to four girls from PS 136, and a third man grabbed a 9-year-old girl, he said.

The 400 parents and community members became restless as the school board tried to complete routine meeting business, including a discussion on the budget cuts, before addressing the incidents. Several parents got up and left in frustration.

The parents who stayed were also dismayed by Jennings’ policy request. Jennings asked that the board institute a policy used in some schools in School Boards 25 and 26 which requires a parent or authorized adult to pick up a student at the end of school.

“In this day and age 8- and 9-year-old children should not be walking home from school alone. We cannot allow that to happen.” Jennings said. “You need to have a clear policy from the board.”

But some parents were concerned they wouldn’t be able to comply because of their work schedules.

“Some of us actually have jobs,” said Joyce Betran, of Jamaica, whose 9-year-old daughter was involved in one of the incidents. “We have to make sure our children are safe but we also have to feed them. We also have to make sure they have a place to stay.”

School Board 27 members said they would look into the policy, but they also advised parents to talk to their children about safety tips, including not talking to strangers and how and who to ask for help.

“We need to make sure our kids are clear on a number of things,” said School Board 27 Superintendent Matthew Bromme. “We have to keep them informed but not so they panic.”

Essig also reminded parents to report anything unusual in the neighborhood. Two adults saw the man who exposed himself to the girls when he was hiding in the bushes, but neither reported it, he said.

“We need you to report suspicious behavior,” Essig said.

Parents were also looking for assurance, however, that the police and the schools were working to prevent these incidents from happening. Philip Johnson, father of six children, came to the meeting armed with suggestions, including setting up a block-by- block watch using parents with walkie-talkies, putting empty police cars on corners, and using high school students to watch over the younger students, an idea that Bromme said he would try to set up.

“That one’s in my territory,” he said. “That one I can do.”

Above all, Johnson told the school board to act quickly.

“Don’t tell me you got to consult with somebody,” he said. “Don’t tell me you got to do some figuring.”

Reach reporter Courtney Dentch by e-mail at TimesLedger@aol.com, or by phone at 229-0300, Ext. 138.

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