DOUGLAS COUNTY, Ga. — Police families are asking for Douglas County School District to apologize after they said officers were stopped while escorting a fallen police sergeant's daughter on her first day of school.
Sergeant Jean-Harold Astree died in a four-vehicle wreck, GSP said, on July 28, just days before his children were heading back to school.
"Jonathan (Astree's son), is used to taking his first day of school picture with his dad next to his cruiser with the lights on - and I was worried about him not having that first day back excitement," said KerryAnn Astree, the fallen sergeant's wife.
KerryAnn did not want them to miss out on the tradition. So, a dozen Fairburn officers volunteered to walk his son and daughter to their classrooms for their first day in his honor.
"Just to see him looking like that and his face light up and smile, that meant everything to me. To have a tradition that he's used to - it's different - but it's what he's used to - it really meant the world to me," she said.
Officers walked the halls with Jonathan at Mason Creek Elementary School and even carried his backpack to class. But unfortunately, the police were not met with the same excitement when they tried to do the same for her daughter, Laurali, at Alexander High School.
The school district said it was a classic case of miscommunication and that they were not informed that the officers would be at the school that day.
When Laurali got out of the police car, her mom said she hugged all the officers, but then her principal came over to question why the officers were there.
"He said, 'you guys, you're making people nervous.' So she was hurt, all of them were hurt, so she said, let's just wrap it up and go," KerryAnn said.
Once stopped, the school's principal was told by officers why they came to visit. The principal then shook hands with Fairburn officers and allowed the escort to proceed. Fairburn Police assumed the elementary school informed the high school and the Douglas County School System's police chief they were coming.
In a statement, the high school said that they were unaware that the officers were coming to the school and that "recent acts of violence on school campuses nationwide have left many parents fearful. The unexpected police presence and sirens surprised and scared many parents. "
They stated that parents were frightened to let their children out of the car because of the "heavy police presence."
"The calls continued to the principal's cell phone from scared employees," Alexander High School's statement said in part.
Lastly, they claimed they had extended sympathy and support to Sgt. Astree's family and children. Still, KerryAnn said the principal never talked to her about what happened.
"It really does anger me, I am hurt. I wouldn't want another family go to through what I went through," she said.
School officials said once the police escort stopped at the front of the school, the officers explained the reason for the visit.
"The principal then shook hands with Fairburn officers and allowed the escort to proceed," the statement said.
The National Police Wives Association is supporting the Astree Family and said given the sometimes strained relationship between police officers and communities, situations like this should be opportunities to bring people together - not divide them.
"We need everyone to be in her circle. Us, the school, her family, when people see her struggling, they need to go up and know what's going on," said Kelli Lowe, President of the National Police Wives Association.
READ THE FULL STATEMENT
"Alexander High School is the county's largest high school, and hundreds of parents were dropping off students that morning for the first day of school. At the same time, preparations were underway for the Senior Parade.
Sgt. Astree's daughter is a beloved Alexander High School student, and her mother is a well-loved former employee. Any tribute to Sgt. Astree's legacy is welcome on our campus. However, that morning, Fairburn officers informed neither the Douglas County School System Police Chief nor the principal of a police presence that day. The school system police department and the principal were not expecting their arrival.
Recent acts of violence on school campuses nationwide have left many parents fearful. The unexpected police presence and sirens surprised and scared many parents. They were scared to let their children out of the car. Calls poured into the front office from frightened parents. The calls continued to the principal's cell phone from scared employees. The principal attempted to calm employees and students, but he could not explain the reason for the heavy police presence.
Once the police escort stopped at the front of the school, the principal greeted officers. Officers explained the reason for the visit. The principal then shook hands with Fairburn officers and allowed the escort to proceed.
During the conversation, it was revealed the officers assumed the high school principal knew Fairburn Police were coming. He did not. Fairburn Police assumed the elementary school informed the high school and the Douglas County School System Police Chief they were coming.
Our district is strongly committed to protecting our students' social, emotional, and psychological wellness. We have extended our sympathies and support to the family of Sgt Astree's family and his children as they grieve this tremendous loss. We hope the rest of their school year will be a positive and supportive learning experience.
We will continue to support them and the rest of our students as they navigate emotional development throughout their time in our school system."