Officials from a Chester County school district under fire after a 7-year-old brought heroin into his elementary school admitted that mistakes were made during their response to the incident.
The Coatesville Area School District Board of School Directors discussed the May 2 incident at Caln Elementary School in Thorndale, Pa. were the boy distributed the drug to at least one other child.
Critics are upset that school officials didn't call 911 or alert medical personnel once the drugs were found.
The boy's grandmother Pauline Bilinski-Munion was arrested and charged with endangering the welfare of children and other related drug offenses.
Police say Munion’s grandson went to his first grade class with the drug after finding it on the floor inside Munion's home. After a teacher at the school overheard that one of the students had drugs, teachers spoke to the boy and found nine bags of heroin in his pants pocket, according to investigators.
Police say the heroin was stamped “Victoria Secret.” The boy told police he found the drugs in the school yard but later admitted that he brought the drugs from his home, according to officials.
Officials say the CASD solicitor, James Ellison, sent a letter home to parents warning that a “dangerous and illegal” substance was found in the grass at recess and that parents should check to see if their children had any of the substance. The notice also suggested that parents might want to take their children to the emergency room for an evaluation, according to investigators.
That response was criticized by the county's top prosecutor, District Attorney Tom Hogan.
“CASD and the CASD solicitor utterly failed to handle this incident correctly both from a student safety and law enforcement perspective,” Hogan said. “From a student safety perspective, heroin loose in a grade school is a major emergency. CASD should have immediately called 911 and brought in emergency and police personnel to check on the physical condition of the children and make sure none of the other children had been given heroin. A late and vague notification to parents about a ‘dangerous and illegal’ substance is too little and too late.
"From a law enforcement perspective, CASD’s Solicitor should have immediately notified the District Attorney’s Office. CASD’s notification to the parents was inadequate to help the children, but served to tip-off the defendant, putting the investigation at risk. It was only through the outstanding efforts of the Chester County Detectives that this crime was solved.
"CASD and its Solicitor completely failed in their duty to protect the children in their care. CASD should be ashamed and the parents of these children should be outraged.”
Deborah Thompson, a member of the school board, admitted that officials did not handle the situation properly.
"Our investigation revealed that there were multiple failures in several respects which contributed to the accurate perception that the incident at Caln should have been handled better," Thompson said during a news conference on Wednesday. "There was a failure to conduct a complete search of our students as well as a sweep of the building once the foreign substance was discovered.“
Officials with the District Attorney’s Office say they found out about the incident a day later through media reports. Hogan then assigned Chester County detectives to conduct an emergency investigation.
Detectives interviewed the boy along with his relatives. Investigators say the boy normally stays with his aunt in Coatesville but recently had been living with his mother, father and grandfather in Modena. The boy told police he found the drugs on the floor by a washing machine at the home.
Detectives executed a search warrant at the Modena home and found several heroin bags inside, including one empty bag in a pair of children’s shorts, according to investigators. Police say no one was home at the time.
Police say they also found another 7-year-old student from Caln Elementary School who had been in contact with the boy. The student’s mother told detectives that she found her son in possession of a heroin bag labeled “Victoria Secret.” The student claimed that Munion’s grandson gave him the drugs.
Based on interviews, investigators determined that Munion, an alleged heroin user, was babysitting her grandson as well as a 1-year-old baby at the Modena home back on May 1. Munion allegedly brought heroin into the house but lost track of it. Her 7-year-old grandson later found the drugs and brought it to school, according to investigators.
Ellison told NBC10 that school district officials contacted the Caln, South Coatesville and Coatesville police departments. According to Ellison, the district’s expectation is that once they contact law enforcement, police will handle the investigation from there and presumably contact the district attorney’s office. Ellison also denied reports that he canceled the sweep of the school.
School board officials say there will be policy changes going forward and possible disciplinary action.
Munion remained behind bars in county jail Wednesday, unable to post $25,000 cash bail, according to court records.