Failure to communicate? High school quiet on thefts

Babysitting money, coats, sneakers, and gift cards have all disappeared over the last couple of weeks from backpacks left unattended in the girls locker room at Ridgefield High School.

Calculators, iPads and other valuables have gone missing from backpacks left in the school’s library and student center, too.

While locker room theft isn’t new at the high school — and students are told during orientation to lock up their stuff, at least one parent believes that administrators have dropped the ball and failed to warn students about what’s been going on recently.

“They do have a policy, and definitely my daughter was foolish to leave her backpack unattended,” said Jen Williamson Pell, whose freshman daughter, Maggie, had $100 in gift cards and $80 in cash stolen from her wallet while she was in gym class Thursday Feb. 16.

“But, they’re 14,” she said. “They need a couple of reminders. … How can I remind her if I have no knowledge that this is happening?”

Williamson Pell told The Press that Maggie didn’t have to change that day because they had a half-day and the class went for only 20 minutes, and that she left her backpack stacked on top of all the others inside the locker room, hiding her wallet inside her binder.

The mother said that her daughter would have taken a different approach had the school notified either the parent or the student about previous larcenies.

"She thought she was being fly by hiding it inside her binder,” Williamson Pell said. “She didn’t think there was this big criminal among them.”

She added that two other girls in the same gym class lost a coat and a pair of sneakers this winter, and teachers and administrators failed to say anything about it.

So why didn’t the school send an email notification to parents? Or use one of its social media handles to notify students about what was happening? Why didn’t the gym teacher make an announcement to the class?

RHS Principal Dr. Stacey Gross was asked for comment but didn’t reply as of press time Wednesday.

Gym teacher Billie Woodel, who doesn’t teach class that period, told The Press that School Resource Officer Fernando Luis checked with staff Tuesday, Feb. 21, to ensure that both the boys and girls locker rooms were being locked during class.

“I’m sure he’s on the case here to find out what’s going on,” she said.

‘Privacy issue’

Woodel said Maggie met with her last week to report the theft that took place.

The gym teacher, who coaches Maggie in field hockey, told The Press Tuesday that she had no knowledge of the previous two incidents in the locker room.

“I heard about it last Thursday, when it was a half-day,” said Woodel. “We had the kids for 20 minutes, kids didn’t even have to change.”

“So as far as what went on before, if these things had been happening, how can we say anything to the kids if we don’t even know anything about it?”

Woodel said the breakdown stems from students reporting an incident to a specific teacher, as Maggie did.

Other teachers might never find out because of the school’s privacy laws, Woodel explained.

“If things are being taken, we don’t necessarily find this out,” she said. “This is a privacy issue, and it’s between the dean, Officer Luis and the students involved — not necessarily us.”

Like parents, most students don’t know thefts are happening in school.

“My friend got money stolen,” said senior Shane Palmer. “I have absolutely no idea if anything is going on this year. …

“Usually it happens to people who leave their backpacks stray … usually in the library and student center.”

Locker use

Although students are warned at the beginning of the year to lock any valuables away, RHS senior Julia O’Malley believes that a majority of students never use their assigned lockers.

“I haven’t even seen the locker that was assigned to me since I was a freshman,” she told The Press.

And gym lockers are even smaller, according to both O’Malley and Williamson Pell, so the backpacks students carry around all day don’t fit.

Woodel said gym teachers warn students at the beginning of the year to leave valuables inside the lockers, with a lock they have to purchase.

As an extra precaution, gym teachers are instructed to lock the doors to the locker room after students have changed.

But this isn’t exactly a regular practice.

O’Malley said that when she took gym — a requirement for freshmen and sophomores — the doors would be locked, with some exceptions surrounding the school’s lunch periods.

“Most of the time they do,” the senior said.


Woodel said there are cameras placed right outside the lockers — a fact Williamson Pell said she didn’t know about until after the incident last week.

The gym teacher added that there are also hall monitors in charge of making sure the outside doors to the gym are locked while class is in session.

So was the outside door left unlocked Feb. 16? And if so, why wasn’t the culprit caught on camera? And how did he or she even get into the locker room when it was supposedly locked? School administrators didn’t have the answers, leaving parents like Williamson Pell wondering what’s taking them so long to react.

“I don’t see why they’re not empowering the students as a whole,” she said. “Why don’t they have a meeting to inform all students? Everyone is annoyed, but there is no positive change. … “Why would they allow that to go on and on?”