Kindergarteners' visit to Hillside jail upsets parents, grandparents

April 19, 2012 2:52:27 PM PDT
Some families are upset after their children were given a tour of the Hillside Police Department lock-up on a recent school field trip.

The west suburban residents are concerned that school officials did not inform them that the lock-up was included in the visit. A letter from the school to the adults described a trip to the library and village hall, which is attached to the police department.

Stephen Stovall, 6, is a kindergarten student at Berkeley's Sunnyside Elementary. This week, his class came to Hillside Village Hall, and their tour included the inmate lock-up.

Stephen is unaware of the controversy surrounding the trip, but his grandmother, Flora Ware, is upset with Sunnyside Elementary and Berkeley School District 87.

"What exactly are you saying? That this is his ultimate future? This is your outcome in life? This is what we expect of you?" said Ware.

"I would like to personally know what was the learning objective for them to take our children there and why was it hidden in the release," said Greg Stanton, whose granddaughter was also on the field trip.

The release, a parental permission slip which each student needed for the trip, clearly states that the trip will be to Hillside Public Library and Village Hall. It does not mention the police department or lock-up.

"How did this happen?" said Ware. "I need to know why this happened, and I need to know, can I trust you with my child."

Ware emphasizes, however, that she is not upset with the police department at all.

The police chief explains the children were allowed to see the department's lock-up, which is shown on every tour. They were allowed inside the holding area and only allowed to look into an individual cell. At no point, the chief says, was a child locked up.

"We are community friendly," said Chief Joseph Lukaszek. "We have a lot of partnerships with our schools, with our businesses, with young people. We want the children to understand we are here to help them."

The grandparents respect the police department's stance, but they say they are frustrated with the school district's response, even after meeting with the superintendent Thursday afternoon. They say if a trip to the lock-up is part of a district field trip, adults must know.

"If this is a common practice in our school district, we need to change that practice," said Stanton.