The incident at Rocketship preceded another attempted abduction at an elementary school in the city’s traditional public system Monday, according to authorities. The episodes prompted conversations across both education sectors about ensuring that parents and school officials know how children are getting home each day.
At Rocketship, the 9-year-old told investigators that Burnside was taking him to visit his grandfather, court documents show. The child does not have a grandfather, according to court documents, but thought the name that Burnside provided sounded familiar.
A police officer stationed at the school said he let Burnside on campus after the man trailed a woman inside who Burnside said was his “baby mother.”
The officer later questioned Burnside, and the suspect told him he was picking up his son whom he hadn’t seen in a decade.
Burnside — who was arrested by D.C. police inside the school on a separate arrest warrant — and his public defender could not be reached for comment Thursday.
He was charged Oct. 22 with kidnapping in connection with the Rocketship incident and is being held without bail. He has a court hearing scheduled in November.
Burnside was forced to register as a sex offender after pleading guilty in December to attempted kidnapping and was given an 18-month suspended sentence, according to court records.
The Rocketship incident only became public this week when the mother of the two boys testified during the D.C. Public Charter School Board’s monthly meeting about concerns for her sons’ safety.
“I heard six different stories from six different people, and I don’t know what to believe,” the mother said. “Right now, I feel like I have been thrown under the bus because I don’t feel like my situation has been taken care of. . . . I feel like safety is a big concern on my behalf when it comes to my children.”
The D.C. Public Charter School Board — which oversees the city’s more than 100 charter campuses, which are publicly funded and privately operated — said it is in contact with Rocketship and is conducting a comprehensive review of safety and dismissal policies at charter schools. A portion of November’s monthly board meeting will be devoted to hearing testimony about the Rocketship episode.
“Once we collect all of this information, we will see whether there is more that we should do,” said Scott Pearson, executive director of the D.C. Public Charter School Board.
Paul Kihn, deputy mayor for education, said his office is also investigating the episode and is working with the charter board to ensure that robust safety and family communication policies are in place.
Rocketship, a California-based charter network, said it has amended security policies following the alleged abduction attempt. School was out of session for parent-teacher conferences the day the incident occurred, and the brothers were in an aftercare program on campus.
Joyanna Smith, Rocketship’s D.C. regional director, said the school typically checks IDs of school visitors. But because the school was not in session Oct. 11, Burnside’s identification was not checked when he entered the campus. In the future, Smith said, the school will check IDs even when school is not in session.
Smith acknowledged the school failed to properly communicate with families after the episode. The school sent a letter to parents Tuesday, more than two weeks later.
“We should have notified parents sooner and take full responsibility that our parents deserve to be promptly informed on school safety incidents, including those that occur when school is not in session,” Smith wrote in an email.
The aftercare program at Rocketship is operated by Springboard Education, a Massachusetts company. Springboard said Thursday afternoon that he company will stop partnering with Rocketship on Nov. 14.
The company said in a statement its staff cooperated with police and, along with Rocketship employees, helped intervene when Burnside allegedly attempted to kidnap the brothers.
Sharon Davis, Springboard’s area director, said all parents and guardians are required to show ID and sign out children at pickup.
The firm came under fire earlier this year after allegations emerged that a Springboard employee kissed and fondled a 13-year-old on multiple occasions at a Capitol Hill elementary and middle school.
That school was one of eight in the traditional public system that partnered with Springboard. That arrangement ended after officials determined the company did not conduct proper background checks for employees.
Springboard continues to operate in some charter schools in the District.
In the separate incident that happened this week, a member of the public thwarted a man’s attempt to lure students into his car near Thomson Elementary in downtown D.C.
“Upon learning of the incident, we immediately followed all mandatory reporting protocols and contacted the parents of the students involved,” Thomson Principal Carmen Shepherd wrote in a letter to parents Tuesday. “As an additional safety measure, students with walking permission slips will be required to call their parent/guardian when they are leaving the building to go home.”