Catoctin Elementary School

Catoctin Elementary School

A 9-year-old student at Catoctin Elementary in Leesburg left school property and walked home unattended during recess on Oct. 3.

The child’s mother, Jessica Salazar of Leesburg, told the Times-Mirror this week that her son, who had broken his finger at recess last week, visited the nurse’s station on Oct. 3 to tend to his injury. Salazar missed a call from the school at 12:19 p.m. informing her of the visit.

Afterward, instead of rejoining his classmates at recess, the child reportedly walked across the street unnoticed. The mother said she called the school back at 12:36 p.m., and administrators were unaware of her son’s absence at the time.

“How do you not see a 9-year-old boy leave the school?” Salazar said.

Minutes later, the child arrived at his house — which his mother estimated is a 30-minute walk from the school.

“He was sweating a lot,” she said, guessing that he might have run. “He said, ‘I was being bullied at school.’”

The mother says she immediately took her son back to school and met with Assistant Principal Jackie Spencer, to whom she explained that her child suffers from behavioral issues and would sometimes follow staff out of previous schools he attended in Clarke County.

The mother told the Times-Mirror she plans to meet with the Principal Janet Platenberg later this month to discuss how the school can accommodate her son’s challenges.

“What if he was hit by a car or somebody kidnapped him? That’s the school’s responsibility,” the mother said. “I’m already going to blame myself because I entrusted the school with my son. It’s hard for me to send my children off to school feeling like they are not there safe.”

Loudoun County Public Schools officials addressed the issue in an email to the Times-Mirror on Monday.

“On Thursday, a student injured their thumb in gym class and went to the clinic to receive treatment,” the statement reads. “When the student was dismissed from the clinic their class was at recess. The student went out to recess and, instead of joining their class, left for home.”

The school system spokesman said “the safety of students and staff is the highest priority of Loudoun County Public Schools."

The statement concluded, “Additional measures have been taken to ensure Catoctin students are not alone when apart from their class.”

(30) comments


I’m surprised at how many of you automatically pass judgement on the parent and not the system. This child has a known problem of running off and leaving the school, which the school and teachers were aware of. And yet they still let him return to the classroom unattended knowing his class was not in the room? The school has cameras that are actively monitored and no one noticed him walk off. That’s scary. What I’ve gathered from many of the comments here is akin to this: The school allows entry to an unknowingly armed assailant. He heads to the cafeteria, where there is a single teacher present to oversee 60+ kids, and he begins shooting. The teacher us taking cover and attempting to tell as many kids as possible to get down. Your 9 year old child takes cover behind a plastic chair and my 9 year old child hides behind the metal milk box. Your child is then shot because the bullet pierced through the plastic and hit your child. My child wasn’t hit because the bullet aimed for him lodged in the milk cart. There HAS to be more to this story... Your child being shot and killed is all your fault because you didn’t teach him that billets can pierce plastic and that he should take cover behind a more appropriate structure in his elementary school cafeteria and you didn’t teach him that even though the doors are secured, someone might mistakenly let a shooter in, and you didn’t teach him that the school is supposed to have multiple teachers monitoring the cafeteria during lunch, but they often don’t follow the rules so he needs to think fast in his own and plan ahead of time where to take cover. You’re a terrible parent for letting this happen to your child while he was at school. GTFOH😡


I believe there is more to this story than what is written. I know the administration and teacher involved and they are top notch and students are their first priority. Mom should teach her kid NOT to leave the building without telling an adult. Yes, more communication from nurse to class could have happened (and hopefully will in the future) but PARENTS need to take some responsibility! Stop blaming others for your lack of teaching your kid how to properly act in school. This is an upper grade student so they should know not to leave school without permission.


Everything is not bad parenting. If a child is being bullied at school, doesn't feel safe at the school, and leaves the school to go to a place they feel safe, how is that bad parenting. If a kid leaves the school and 30 minutes go by without the school notifying the parents, how is that bad parenting. Let's not forget this is a 9 year old child. What 9 year old makes the best decision 100% of the time? People are quick to blame the parent. How does a parent control bullying at the school? How does the parent control not being notified in 30 minutes by the school? What does the school take responsibility for and what measures did they put in place as a result. Loudoun County has had this happen before and sweep it under the rug. There are protocols for this at the schools and the protocols were not followed. Doesn't mean the administrators and teachers are bad people that hate kids. Mistakes were definetly made on the schools part.


Be careful almost sound like you are in favor of parents actually taking responsibility for their kids....that want play well with today's blame-everyone-else culture...everyone is a victim these days.


It's not blame everyone else and be a victim. The kid is bullied at school. He left the school and was missing for 30 minutes and no phone call to the parents. How is that on the parent? How many parents sit down with their kids and have the conversation to never leave the school without telling an adult? I would bet none because they wouldn't think a kid would do that. Bullying at the school and not notifying the parents is 100% on the school. As a loudoun county school elementary school principle told me, this isn't a prison we can't keep the kids from leaving. Insane at the elementary school level. For all the perfect parents, who's 9 year olds never do anything wrong and can make every decision on their own, congratulations. Please educate all the other parents with 9 year olds that can barely make it through the day with out a parent helping out somewhere. I'll be the first inline to pay top dollar for that book.


Novamag, most parents don’t tell their kids specifically never to leave school without telling an adult because by the time those kids are nine years old they have been taught enough of the right things to know that is wrong. I don’t tell my kids not to chase trash trucks but I’m pretty sure they know not to. The elephant in the room on this and elsewhere in today's school culture is the propensity to label everything as bullying. I think the school system has the right motives but the unintended consequences have been that kids are being taught that they are all victims. While I have no idea of what happened in this specific instance, no doubt that much of what is today labeled bullying was in the past nothing more than minor conflicts as a part of everyday life growing up. Kids today are overly sensitive, bothered by everything, incapable of dealing with the smallest of slights or conflicts. It is almost always about parenting. Buck up parents. Teach your children to be tougher. Otherwise, you are not preparing them for the real world. Tough love but necessary.

More Cowbell

Disagree. Sounds like parents should be patrolling the school if they can't do their job. All I ever hear is we need more teachers, more security, more admin, higher taxes. And this is what we get. LCPS is in the news almost every week for something bad. Hopefully, an outside group will investigate and hold whoever accountable.


There's a ton of bullying in LCPS and it goes on with administration knowing. The agendas and VA Code have very detailed instructions, laws, that are to be followed, but they are not. This is sadly not a single incident. It's the schools not following State Code


Sounds like another incidence of LCPS ignoring the needs of a special education child!


"Everybody is out of step, but my boy Johnny".


It is sad that the school can’t tell their side of the story. I am sure there will be a totally different detailed account of what happened that day. I can say this, the safety of all the children at Catoctin is important. The Principal, Assistant Principal and staff’s number one priority is making sure the students there are safe. I am trying to understand that if this has happened before, which the mom admits to it happening in the past schools, then why wasn’t the media contacted. Why now? Makes me wonder if mom has a different agenda.


People need to realize that a you can't lock the kids in school. They need to be able to escape in the event of a fire or evacuation. Taxpayers will not pay for a guard at every door or even for dedicated monitoring of the cameras (which would require two people on duty per school to cover breaks). Yes, the teacher should have had better awareness of the child's issues assuming that the school was made aware of them by the parent. But it's not possible to watch all the kids in a classroom all the time. If a kid is determined to leave they can sneak out when the teacher's back is turned.

Realistically, there is blame to go around to all parties here and the knee jerk reaction and the blatant pandering by someone running for school board here is not fair to people that do care about the children but are asked to deal with behavior issues without adequate funding for staff and security.

I ask you all, when you were growing up how many time did you skip out of school or know people that did it regularly. This is nothing new... at all.


Maybe put a policy in place, student goes to nurse, office etc, it is confirmed he/she arrived and then when they leave said office use their walkies and inform that teacher student is now returning to his/her class. If child does not return then there is an issue! Be responsible, these people are the adults, we were all kids once and should not forget where there is a way they will take it. Again LCPS employees are responsible adults that take our kids welfare and well being on a daily basis. STEP UP


To your last point, how many times did you skip out of school when you were 9? If we are talking about a high school student, this is a different story. This is a 9 year old kid. You are right that there is blame to go around and the mother should certainly have informed the school about the problems of the past, but when you send an elementary school student to school, the school is responsible for keeping track of them, period.


There are a few nuggets here school board members should take notice of and act appropriately:

1 Child was bullied on the day he left school apparently not witnessed by any adult or he had no faith in confiding in an adult to protect him from the bully. School board action should be to ask for a system wide bullying report by school to measure the frequency of such occurrences not just assume unless a parent shows up at a school board meeting to complain there is no problem.

2 Nobody is watching the cameras. School board should ascertain who is responsible for monitoring ALL the cameras in the system or determine they are just for archive purposes and come up with another system to protect schools inside and on the perimeter.

3 A full vestibule security system was installed in ALL schools yet this 9 year old was able to walk out without notice meaning the system does not work or office staff whose job it is to monitor the vestibule was not done and to what effect? Will that be the new job of the new elementary school sworn deputy to keep children from walking out of the school?

4 Behavioral issues regarding the child are not appropriate to this topic as there are lots of children in schools with such problems and ALL the children are to be maintained safely in the school without exception. Who is accountable for things at LCPS that go WRONG - ANYONE? How about is the child was abducted as he walked home? Would we blame the kid, the parent, the school, the security staff, Trump or just that the systems set up are not managed. With 83,700 students in the system is this really the only time this ever happened this year at any of the schools?


That is exactly right. While things like this continue to happen, a good portion of the school board continue to focus their efforts that do nothing to improve any of the real issues in public schools.


The mother is right to be concerned. However, that concern should be directed inward, toward what she is doing as the parent. Nine year olds know they shouldn't be walking away from school, yet this child seems to do it regularly. What is this mother teaching her son? Other than how to pass the buck?


My son knows right from wrong. He said he couldn't take being bullied anymore and came up with his thumb hurting to go home. He does have behavior problems and I have seeked help everywhere. When children are at school, the school is responsible for them. I have a right to be heard.


That is an asinine comment. The school has responsibility.

More Cowbell

Yeah, 9 year old shouldn't but whoever is manning the security at the school should be watching for those kinds of incidents(entering/leaving are biggest threat to a school). These schools have bloated overhead. So did Nurse walk him to his teacher, recess? or was he free to walk the halls? Did he leave through front door? How many teachers are watching kids during recess? LCPS needs to a better job. Too many Chiefs. Time to hold some of those accountable.


In the elementary schools that I've been in, the student walks his/herself back to the classroom. Typically a 9 y.o. would know where they are to be next. As to what teachers are on the playground, all who have a recess scheduled at that time will be on the playground. Kids are running all over the place. Teachers and students monitor the playground; there is always a group of students who will let a teacher know if someone is doing something they should not be doing. Catoctin has a huge playground.


Seriously another judge - I am sure she revealed her childs issues to the school, all the more reason for them to take extra care. IF he is being bullied then he did what he thought was needed to be safe. Give me a break he is 9 years old, did you make good decisions at 9. Gosh all these perfect parents judging.


"The mother says she immediately took her son back to school and met with Assistant Principal Jackie Spencer, to whom she explained that her child suffers from behavioral issues and would sometimes follow staff out of previous schools he attended in Clarke County."

There are a lot of unanswered questions here, not the least of which, "Did the mother share this nugget of the child's history with school officials before the incident?" or "Is a mainstream public school environment really the safest place for this child?" There are a lot of indicators that there might be more than meets the eye, including the speed with which the mother went to the LTM to tell her son's story.


The school has his record from previous schools. The day I enrolled my kids there, I told them of his problems and again to his teacher through email after open house. As to how fast I went to LTM, I want people who are concerned about their kids to know what's going on. Anything could had happened to my son and as his mother, I'm simply not giving up on his well being and just want this acknowledge and fixed. Oh and I agree that it's not the safest place for this particular child. I have been going through hoops trying to be heard about that too.

Hi People

Not giving up on his well being but quick to give him up when you the mother can't handle him. Makes so much since seriously


You did the right thing advocating in his behalf and making other parents aware through the news paper. You should be able to safely assume that your 9 year-old child will be kept safe and out of harms way in school, and that includes preventing him from leaving the school unattended. Don’t let these people bully you into thinking otherwise.


Wow your quick to judge - regardless a child left the school unattended walked home and noone missed him. If you want to judge the parent shame on you, lets judge the LCPS system, do you not read the news about how many incidents there have been regarding bullying, suicide, special needs..WTH


We had a similar incident at another Loudoun County school with our son at that age. The school did nothing. They said the school wasn't a prison and they couldn't keep kids from leaving. They also said they don't have the staff to monitor cameras or hallways. They told staff and administrators in other schools that I was an irrational parent for being upset with them. Loudoun Counties answer is to make a statement saying it is an isolated incident and they are putting additional measures in place to ensure our children's safety. People were quick to say the parents bad parenting style was why the child left the school. A young child that is hurt and being bullied is going to go to a safe place they know, which is usually home. This is not a issue with the child, it is an issue with the environment. This happens at least once a year in a loudoun county elementary school.


It is sad that they pay so much attention to who goes in the school but not who goes out. If you go to the superintendents office, you are watched entering and exiting. And these are our kids.

Virginia SGP

Hopefully, the new school board will be more concerned about student well-being (safety, protection from bullying, effective instruction) than their reputations and passing the buck. Each month of their term, this incumbent school board seems to reach a new low.

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