NWA editorial: Lessons from Adron

School district reacts to death of one of its own

Posted: March 19, 2017 at 1 a.m.

On each of the last eight mornings before students were dismissed for their spring breaks, many parents sending their kids off for just another routine day at Northwest Arkansas' schools made sure they gave a hug before their children walked out the door.

More than a few times, parents or grandparents dropping children off curbside at their schools seized the opportunity to say "I love you" before the car door closed and the stacked-up vehicles behind demanded forward movement.

What’s the point?

Fayetteville, the school district and the community it serves, is mourning the loss of a child with compassion and a drive to seek ways to better protect the community’s students.

Lingering in those parents' minds was what happened nine days ago, when the family of 6-year-old Adron Benton started the day as they had all year long, getting Adron ready for classes at Vandergriff Elementary School in Fayetteville. It was just another Tuesday morning, preparing to join other students for learning, for fun and for the challenges of being a first-grader.

It is heartbreaking to think back to that morning knowing what we do now, that Adron would not come home. That within a short period during recess a boy would wander off the school grounds. That the adults who devoted themselves to helping him learn all year would scramble after realizing he wasn't where he was supposed to be. That young Adron would be pulled unconscious from a swimming pool not far away at a private home, a pool that for 15 years not many people even knew was there.

That a boy who left his family for school on a Tuesday morning in March would die a day later at a hospital in Little Rock.

And that the lives of so many -- those charged with Adron's supervision, the owners of the nearby home, classmates at Vandergriff and, most of all, a family who had expected to see the boy after just another day at school -- would be shattered in those few minutes.

Adron, his family and everyone touched by this tragedy are in our prayers.

The search for answers is under way, as it must be. Sadness cannot consume the process necessary to foresee what cannot be easily foreseen. Simultaneous to the mourning is the necessity of close examination of the events leading to an outcome nobody expected and certainly nobody wanted. Superintendent Matthew Wendt has walked that precarious line between demonstrating compassion for the people affected by Adron's death and a push to find as many answers as possible.

Blame always seeks a place to land, perhaps no more so than when a child dies in circumstances viewed, easily with the benefit of hindsight, as preventable. Prevention was on the minds of school administrators as the Fayetteville School District said last week it would install more fencing around Vandergriff's playground and is evaluating all campuses to assess whether any hidden dangers need to be addressed.

We appreciate the rapid response of the school district. It is perhaps among the most unfortunate of truths that no matter how much preparedness goes into human endeavors, nothing can be made 100 percent immune to accidents or tragedies. Life carries with it an inherent level of risk because it is so fragile, far more so than any of us like to admit. So much of what is learned and what we can respond to relies on experience. Young Adron's death is a horrible, heartbreaking experience. It sent shock waves through the community, certainly among the educators who show up daily to prepare the community's children for life and help them realize their potential. It appears what is learned from Adron's passing will serve to better protect the precious collection of young people at Vandergriff and perhaps other schools.

Whatever changes are made, whatever answers are found, will not diminish the incalculable loss. The school district can only respond with compassion for those hurting and with a determination to do as much as possible to reduce the possibility of harm to other children.

If only crystal balls really existed, giving us a chance to foresee and avoid such calamities. After all, who before that terrible Tuesday afternoon could have imagined this happening?

Commentary on 03/19/2017