Eleanor Holmes Norton says kids mistreated on field trip at National Arboretum

WASHINGTON (AP) — A delegate to Congress says a group of 6- and 7-year-olds was mistreated by staff at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington during a field trip.

Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton, a Democrat who represents the District of Columbia in Congress, says a staffer called an armed officer to respond when the first-graders were playing in an area where they apparently weren't allowed.

Norton sent a letter to the director of the arboretum on Tuesday, asking for an apology to the students and teachers of Two Rivers Public Charter School. She says there were no signs telling visitors that the area where the children were playing was restricted.

Norton says the responding officer behaved appropriately and "de-escalated the situation," but she says it was "likely a traumatizing experience for these children."

Eleanor Holmes Norton's letter to U.S. National Arboretum Director Richard Olsen:

Dear Director Olsen:

I was alarmed to hear about the actions of staff of the U.S. National Arboretum during a D.C. public charter school’s visit to the Arboretum last week.  Two Rivers Public Charter School recently took its first grade classes to the Arboretum on an educational field trip.  I have been informed that the children were playing near picnic tables next to a parking lot when an Arboretum staff member approached in her vehicle, yelled at the children, and then proceeded to call an armed officer to respond.  The charter school’s staff and chaperones were not consulted and after the incident, they called immediately for the bus to leave the Arboretum, thus cutting the field trip short.

The students, parents, and staff were made to feel unwelcome at what is meant to be a “living museum where trees, shrubs, and herbaceous plants are cultivated for scientific and educational purposes.”  I am pleased that the officer who was called by the Arboretum staff deescalated the situation and properly responded.  However, this was likely a traumatizing experience for these children.  It is clear that there was a lack of proper signage in the area to notify visitors of restricted areas and lack of appropriate training of staff on how to interact with children.

I understand that parents of the first graders at Two Rivers Public Charter School have already sent you a list of steps to take to improve community relationships and address the incident involving their children.  I ask that you apologize to the Two Rivers Public Charter school students, teachers, and parents affected by this incident, meet with the school community to discuss community partnerships, and develop clear signage and information regarding restricted areas.  I ask that you respond within 30 days with an action plan on how the U.S. Arboretum will train its staff and volunteers to ensure all visitors feel welcome.

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