Here’s What Chuck E. Cheese Can Teach Us About School Security

Finding solutions in the most unlikely places.

Every day, we drop our kids off at school and hope and pray that they are safe. We trust that the people who are in charge are protecting them, keeping a watchful eye and making sure that they do not get hurt. Of course, sometimes, they do get hurt. Sometimes they go missing. The truth is that many of our schools are tragedies waiting to happen.

A few weeks ago, an unknown woman wearing a dark burqa walked into a classroom in West Philadelphia’s Bryant Elementary School and walked out with a five-year-old girl she had no business taking. The next morning, the girl was found half-naked outdoors. Apparently, she had been stripped and blindfolded before escaping her captors. Today, the perpetrators remain on the street, and a reward of $80,000 is being offered for information leading to their arrest.

Immediately following that abduction, everybody was talking about what went wrong at the school. The long finger of blame needed a target. And an investigation continues into that school’s failures.

But security at our schools remains a joke.

Two days after the kidnapping, I went to my kids’ school, also in West Philadelphia, for afternoon pickup. When it’s not raining, pickup is outdoors in a large parking lot. The children line up single file behind their teacher as scores of parents and guardians flood the lot. As you can imagine, it can be a chaotic scene.

What’s supposed to happen is that the teacher sees a parent and releases their child to them. But on this particular day, as I navigated my way through the swarm, I noticed that my son’s teacher wasn’t there. It was a substitute, a woman I had never seen before. She didn’t know me, and I didn’t know her. My son approached me, we walked away, and no words were exchanged with the teacher.

Of course, he came to me willingly. There was no duress. But he’s only supposed to be released into the custody of one of his parents, unless we notify the school in advance. There are plenty of people he would happily leave with, even though we’ve given him the speech. But his judgment shouldn’t be an issue here. He’s seven years old, and the school is supposed to keep him safe.

He’d be much safer at Chuck E. Cheese, that chain of family entertainment centers known for their games, birthday parties and animatronic shows.

Every single one of the 514 Chuck E. Cheeses across the nation—from those in rough-and-tumble urban areas to those in more bucolic locations in places like Fargo, North Dakota (because nothing ever happens there, right?)—features a security protocol known as Kid Check.

Since 1994, when the Kid Check program was instituted, every child that enters a Chuck E. Cheese gets a unique hand stamp, visible only under ultraviolet light. The adult responsible for that child gets the same stamp, and no one under 18 is allowed in without a parent or responsible adult.

When it’s time to leave, once you’ve run out of tokens and gorged yourself on pizza, you have to show your hand stamps in order to exit. So, everybody who comes together leaves together. And there’s a video security system at each Kid Check station, documenting who is coming and going.

Kid Check is a stupidly simple idea, but it’s one that helps keep kids safe. And it’s just the kind of common sense approach so lacking from our schools today.

Of course, you couldn’t institute the exact Kid Check program in all of Philadelphia’s schools, but it is a step in the right direction. And when the school system in the fifth-largest city in the United States has to start looking to Chuck E. Cheese for innovation, well, you know we’re in trouble.