By Melanie Speicher -

SIDNEY — Shelby County Sheriff John Lenhart is encouraging all students to make new friends during the 2019-20 school year.

“Some of the students are attending new schools this year,” said Lenhart during his weekly interview. “Especially in Sidney where you’ll have multiple different schools where the students have never been before.

“This is a very big deal, especially in students in kindergarten through the early grades. They’re experiencing new schools and meeting new kids.”

Students attending a new school are just like the students who are moving into a new town or city or a new neighborhood.

“The teachers want to make you feel at home,” he said. “The kids should befriend them and show them around the school or neighborhood. Welcome them to the school. This can be a frightening thing for students of all ages.”

Lenhart said when his daughter was in school — and a new students moved into the district — she and another friend would eat lunch with them so they weren’t alone.

Parents are also making some decisions this school year — are their children old enough to stay at home before and after school by themselves.

“Four and a half million kids ages 14 and under are staying unsupervised at home around the country,” said Lenhart. “They are know as latch key kids.

And, he said, they can also be victims of crime between 2 and 6 p.m.

“You need to look at the maturity of each child,” he said, before making the decision on whether they can stay at home by themselves.

Lenhart said parents should take into consideration:

• The child’s maturity — both physical and mental growth.

• Can they obey the rules

• Can they handle the stress of staying home alone.

• If an older sibling is in charge, does that sibling take on an authoritarian role.

• How long will the child be home alone. Is it during the daylight or at night.

• How often will it happen

• How many children are being left home.

“And with school starting, we’re going to see weather delays. We’ve already had fog delays and snow delays are around the corner,” said Lenhart.

Lenhart said if a child does stay home along, the parents should make sure the home is safe and free of hazards. Make sure all smoke alarms are working and that the child knows how to lock all the doors once they’ve entered the house. Make sure all firearms and adult beverages are locked up.

“And what kind of neighborhood do you live in?” said Lenhart. “If a stranger comes to the door, does the child know what to do? Are they allowed to have friends over when the parents are not at home?

“You should have a friend, neighbor or family member who can check on the child to make sure they are OK,” he said. “The parent should ask the child if they are comfortable staying home alone.”

Before the final decision is made, said Lenhart, parents and their children should have a conversation about what it means to stay at home by themselves.

Parents, he said, should set the rules, do some role playing with scenarios which could happen and hold a trial period to make sure the child is comfortable staying home.

“Should the child have TV time when they are home alone?” said Lenhart. “Or computer time. We tell kids to watch out for strangers coming up to the door but with the computer we are inviting strangers into our living rooms, kitchens and bedrooms.”

By Melanie Speicher

The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.

The writer conducts a weekly interview to update readers with news from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Office, 555 Gearhart Road, Sidney.