Wednesday, January 05, 2005

News from Baltimore, Maryland's WBAL (apologies for the sensationalist terminology)

"Wheelchair-Bound Kids Behind"

POSTED: 5:55 am EST January 5, 2005
UPDATED: 10:00 am EST January 5, 2005

WESTMINSTER, Md. -- When a Carroll County, Md., high school had an emergency evacuation, everyone got out except for two students who were confined to wheelchairs.

They were abandoned in the stairwell on the second floor.

WBAL-TV in Baltimore said there is a policy at Westminster High School for what to do with the two students in wheelchairs in case of a fire. The policy said because their classrooms are on the second floor, teachers are to lead them to the second-floor stairwell and leave them there and wait for the fire crews to come to their rescue while everyone else evacuates.

Jeremy Freeze, 16, has cerebral palsy. His parents, Cassie and Tom, said what happened to their son at Westminster High recently could have killed him.

"There was a fire at Westminster High School just prior to the Christmas break, and I was alerted to the fact that Jeremy was left in the stairwell as the other children were evacuated," Cassie said.

"If children are to be evacuated from that school, I want our children evacuated with them," Tom said.

Jeremy wasn't alone waiting in the school stairwell as it filled with smoke. Robin Miller's son Brian, the only other child in the school with a wheelchair, was with him.

"I got a call from a teacher the day there was a fire and they said (Brian) was hysterical because all the other children were evacuated, he was left in a stairwell with Jeremy," Robin said.

Robin, Cassie and Tom all said they think the common sense solution is move their kids' classes to the first floor. They said they were told the second floor is best because it's closer to the lunchroom and therefore more convenient.

"He won't be late for lunch, but he'll burn if there's a fire," Robin said.

"I met with Dr. Ecker, the superintendent," Tom said. "The principal brought him down at 4 p.m. to meet with me and he assured me we would hear something tomorrow."

"You can't just pick these kids and say lets leave them behind and come back and get them just because they're hard to get out," Robin said. "There has to be a better plan."

WBAL-TV contacted the superintendent of the Carroll County school system several times on Tuesday, but never got a clear answer as to how the policy could be like this or what's being done to change it.

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