Traverse City Record-Eagle

April 26, 2013

Missing student walks home

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — A mother found her second-grade son safe at home hours after he wandered off from Westwoods Elementary School and walked roughly three miles to his house.

Traverse City Area Public Schools officials subsequently suspended Brenda Wells, manager of the school’s extended day child care program, as they continue to investigate what went wrong Thursday morning.

The student’s parents checked the boy into the Westwoods extended daycare at about 7:10 a.m. The student later left the child care area to go to his locker. He then strolled out of Westwoods and headed for home.

“Obviously it was extremely frightening and extremely serious,” Westwoods Principal Sander Scott said. “We are just so thankful the child was found safe and now we’re on it in terms of really evaluating our procedures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

The pupil’s absence initially was noticed during an attendance count at his second grade classroom at about 8:50 a.m. School staffers called one of the boy’s parents and left a voicemail saying the child was not at school.

The parent called the school back and left a voicemail stating the boy had been dropped off at Westwoods that morning. The voicemail was not checked for about two hours.

School officials then realized the boy was missing. A search and review of surveillance footage from security cameras revealed he walked off the campus hours earlier.

“At that point 911 was called,” TCAPS Superintendent Stephen Cousins said.

The student’s mother found her son safe at their home at about 1:45 p.m., roughly 25 minutes after 911 was called and hours after he left school.

The boy told TCAPS officials he walked home because he wanted to talk to his mother.

School officials do not know if the student walked on roads or cut across country, Scott said.

Extended child care staffers are supposed to note when students leave the child care room for any reason and note when they return. That didn’t happen Thursday morning, Cousins said.

Why the parent’s voicemail sat idle for two hours remains unclear.

TCAPS administrators continue to review the situation, Cousins said. He did not know if Wells or any other TCAPS employees will face further discipline.

Wells could not be reached for comment.

District officials implemented several policy changes to ensure the mistake is not repeated, including cross-checking any unverified student absences with the child care parent check-in list.

Cousins apologized to the parents of the student for any anxiety caused by the event.

“We will catch this the next time, if it occurs,” Cousins said.

District officials would not release the name of the student or his parents, citing the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act.