Over the last two months there have been "three separate and unrelated incidents" involving strangers "behaving suspiciously" toward students on their way to Menlo Park City School District (MPCSD) schools, according to the district.
One incident was reported on the afternoon of April 5 on the 200 block of Elliott Drive in Menlo Park (near Laurel School's Upper Campus). A detective had a possible identification of the people who approached a child, "but this did not pan out," said Menlo Park Police Department spokesperson Nicole Acker in an email. Police took a report of a "suspicious vehicle" in the area at that time, according to the police log.
"The students did the right thing in getting help from nearby adults, and reporting the incidents once they reached the school office," said Parke Treadway, the district's public information officer, in an email. "Menlo Park and Atherton police were notified, and our students were not physically injured."
The Menlo Park Police Department published a blog post on April 16 noting that "as schools start to reopen, this is a good time to remind students to be aware of their surroundings and of people that ask them to do something that they sense is not right or makes them feel uncomfortable." All K-5 hybrid students are now attending classes in person five days a week, according to the district. The Atherton Police Department published a similar post on April 23.
An April 22 district newsletter noted that the district is "fortunate to live in a community of neighbors who are helpful and have our students' safety and wellness at heart."
The Menlo Park Police Department has developed new resources to help families and students have conversations about stranger awareness, and build confidence and safety skills in students, according to the newsletter.
"Dangerous and uncomfortable situations can be referred to instances where children are approached by a person and asked to disobey their parents or do something without permission, asked to keep a secret, or make them feel uneasy in any way," the police department post states.
The first post talks about the difference between strangers who can help students -- like neighbors, teachers, older children nearby, workers at a local business, or police officers -- and potentially dangerous strangers. Suspicious situations can include asking a child to get in a car, keep a secret, help find a lost pet, or offering them candy, according to the post.
If approached by a stranger offering them something, a child should be taught to say "no," run away, and find a safe adult to report the incident and call for help. The Menlo Park Police Department also encourages parents to remind their children to contact the police whenever they observe or are notified of something they believe to be out of the ordinary. Parents should notify the police as soon as possible.
School officials are using the nonprofit KidPower's resources to educate students on stranger awareness and how to be safe when confronted with a suspicious situation.