New Mexico School Holds Kindergarten Students in Cages During Pickup

The parent of a New Mexico kindergarten student has spoken out after it emerged children are held in "cages" while waiting to be picked up from school.

The woman—identified only as Morales—told local media outlet KOB she became aware of the system used by Early Childhood Education Center in Carlsbad while picking up her five-year-old son from school last week. "I noticed they had the children in cages," she said.

Video footage obtained by the news publication, taken from a moving vehicle, shows a group of children sitting in a metal cage-like structure. District officials said the process was designed to keep pupils safe during pickup—but conceded the measure may be improved in the future. On social media, school officials have previously described the caging as "temporary fencing."

According to official documentation uploaded to the kindergarten's Facebook page, pickup times at the school are currently split into two time slots: 2:10 p.m. and 2:25 p.m.

"This is the plan we have settled on for pickup," the school wrote in an August 12 post about the system. "We have put up temporary fencing for safety and have ordered permanent fencing and shade structures. We hope... we can add some benches for the students to sit on."

After some trial and error, this is the plan we have settled on for pick-up. We have put up temporary fencing for safety...

Posted by Early Childhood Education Center on Monday, August 12, 2019

However, Morales said she was concerned about children whose parents could not collect them on time, saying kids could potentially be in cage-like structures in the heat for too long.

"It's putting their little bodies in danger," she told KOB. "The ones that aren't picked up on time, they aren't allowed to be taken inside until 2:45 p.m. so that's 20 to 30 minutes of them standing out there in the heat, waiting to be picked up by their parents. That's completely unsafe. That's a large amount of time for a child to be out, exposed to the heat, even in the shade."

The suggestion that children could be at risk was firmly rejected this week by Gerry Washburn, superintendent of the Carlsbad Municipal School District, which oversees the kindergarten.

Parent says kindergarten students at New Mexico school kept in cages while waiting for pickup.

— WPXI (@WPXI) August 19, 2019

"The assertions that kindergarten students at our Early Childhood Education Center are in cages in the hot sun for 30 to 40 minutes at dismissal are categorically false," Washburn said, adding that children are kept in shaded conditions during pickup slots for 15 minutes or less.

He said: "The plan also creates an orderly dismissal process, significantly reduces parent wait times and reduces traffic backups. We are also only in the seventh day of school. We believe the process will become even better as parents, staff and students become familiar with dismissal procedures. We will continue to refine and improve the plan as issues come up."

According to an online calendar on the Early Childhood Education Center website, the term started for students between August 7 and August 8. New teachers started August 1.

Washburn said complaints about the current pickup situation from kindergarten students' parents were "indicative of the frustration everyone in Carlsbad experiences on a daily basis traveling on roads designed for 28,000 people, not the 40 or 50 thousand people we currently have in our community."

The superintendent added: "Resolving these issues will require additional capital expenditures and time. Our team is working hard with the community to develop solutions to the problems."

Early Childhood Education Center
Pictured: Early Childhood Education Center in Carlsbad. District officials said the pickup process was designed to keep students safe—but conceded it may be refined. Early Childhood Education Center/Facebook