Hope Mills kindergartner wanders away from class

Posted September 7, 2011 5:07 p.m. EDT
Updated September 7, 2011 6:38 p.m. EDT

— Safety procedures at Cumberland County elementary schools are under review after a 5-year-old girl wandered away from school after getting separated from her kindergarten class, district officials said Wednesday.

It was Alayna Jensen's first week at C. Wayne Collier Elementary School in Hope Mills. On Thursday, her class was getting ready to go to lunch, but Alayna had to use the bathroom, which is located inside her classroom.

When she came out of the bathroom, her classmates and teacher were gone. School officials said she was in the classroom alone for about 20 minutes before venturing into the hallway. 

A surveillance camera in the hallway caught Alayna leaving the room and heading out an exit door. The door shut and locked behind her, so she started walking to the home she shares with her grandmother about a quarter-mile away.

Alayna was almost at her grandmother’s house when a neighbor stopped her and called the school.

“She was running when my neighbor found her. She was red, sweating, just shaken, scared,” Alayna's father, Robert West, said. “They (the school) didn’t know she was missing whenever my neighbor took her up there, and that was like 45 minutes to an hour." 

West shudders at what could have happened.

“What if she got kidnapped? What if she got run over on that big road by the school?" West said. “You trust the school system to have your kids in there and watching them – and then something like this happens,”

School officials said that, judging by surveillance video and the neighbor’s phone call, Alayna was off-campus for about 10 minutes.

Her grandmother, Marsha West, who holds a degree in elementary education, at first felt sympathetic toward the teacher. Now, she feels the need to speak out.

“If I didn’t say anything and this happened to another child and another child got hurt, I would have felt guilty,” Marsha West said.

Cumberland County Schools spokeswoman Theresa Perry said the school’s principal met with all teachers that day and reviewed security procedures.

The district has asked all elementary principals to make sure teachers account for all students at all times.

“We simply cannot review safety procedures enough the first week of school, especially with our youngest students. We cannot be cautious enough,” Perry said.

Elementary principals are also being told to make sure students know what to do in case they get locked out.

Perry said the incident is under review to see if disciplinary action will be taken.

Alayna has returned to school.