ATLANTA - A 5-year-old walked away from his school, exposing problems in the way a charter school handles student security.
Jordan Clemmons was missing about an hour Monday. His teacher, acting on a hunch, drove around and found him safely playing with a friend outside his apartment complex.
He had walked about a mile home by himself through a troubled northwest Atlanta neighborhood.
"You know, you hear stories all the time about kids being snatched and something happening to them," mom Heather Clemmons said later that evening, unable to hold back tears. "And I just thank God that he was all right."
Though this was the first time 4-year-old Atlanta Preparatory Academy had had this problem, the situation is not unique. Just this school year:
- In mid-September, two 5-year-olds walked away from Skelly Elementary School in Tulsa, Okla. Campus police and city police were involved in the search, and the girls were found safe a few hours later, playing in a drainage ditch. Their teacher was suspended with pay pending an administrative review.
- A month later, 5- and 6-year-old boys walked away from Stanton Elementary in Philadelphia. A police officer found them wandering around on a subway train a couple of hours later. At the time, the school district said it was investigating the incident.
- In November, a 5-year-old walked away from Dunbar Elementary in Memphis, deciding on his own that he would walk home rather than wait for his mom to pick him up. School officials admit someone made a mistake but didn't immediately say what steps they would take to prevent additional incidents.
- Heather Clemmons attends college, studying early childhood education to become a teacher.
On Monday, she knew she would be in class, so she had arranged for family friend Laura Francis to pick up Jordan from the charter school in her neighborhood. Francis arrived at the school 45 minutes before classes ended.
Ten minutes later, Jordan's teacher, whom the school did not identify, saw Francis while all her young students were with another teacher in gym class. Jordan's teacher authorized Francis, a familiar face at the school, to take the kindergartner home early.
When the children returned to her classroom, Jordan's teacher sent him to the office but didn't accompany him or tell him why.
"Jordan thought he was in trouble," Heather Clemmons said. "Jordan didn't go to the office because he thought he was in trouble."
What he did was captured on the school's security cameras, which weren't monitored.
"We need to make sure that (the children) are monitored 100% of the time," said Lynnette Walker, principal of the school with 450 students in kindergarten through eighth grade. "And that, unfortunately, didn't happen."
School officials looked at the surveillance video only after Francis, in tears with worry, had called Jordan's mom more than 30 minutes later to say he was missing.
The footage at first shows Jordan meandering up and down the hall between his classroom and the main office, said Walker, who would not make the material public. At about 3:15 p.m., he went into the boys' bathroom. When he came out he lingered in the hallway a bit longer then walked down the staircase near his classroom.
At 3:22 p.m., he pushed open the back door and went outside.
"This is a strong, professional development reminder that teachers are 100% responsible for children from the time they walk into their classrooms until the time that they leave," the principal said Tuesday. She said she had apologized to Clemmons earlier that day.
The camera at the back door showed Jordan walking away from the school and down the street in the direction of his home, Walker said.
"I was hysterical," Heather Clemmons said, at the time not knowing about the camera footage. "I just didn't know what to do. I felt like I was helpless."
Francis said Jordan's teacher jumped into her car and started driving through the neighborhood, finding him in front of his apartment complex. The teacher also has apologized to Clemmons.
But the teacher is not the only one to blame, Clemmons said. She thinks that adults should serve as hallway monitors and the security cameras also need to be monitored.
"It only takes one time for something to happen to him, for something to happen to any child," she said.