Evan Clifton, age 5, worried a number of adults when he failed to return from a routine bathroom break at Ohatchee Elementary School. According to school officials, an off-duty bus driver found the kindergarten student “a couple of blocks” from the campus and returned him safely.
In the meantime, however, the boy’s teacher had reported him to be missing, sparking a search of the school and a review of video to try to locate him, Calhoun County Deputy Superintendent Karen Winn said.
“They’re working very, very hard to make sure nothing like this ever happens again,” said Winn. “The teacher has never had anything like this happen.”
In a statement Wednesday, Winn said the school “responded very well to this incident and handled the situation as caring professionals.”
Staff should be commended, she said, “for their quick response.”
Evan sat cross-legged and curled up wearing an Incredible Hulk T-shirt on the sofa of his family’s Ohatchee-area home Wednesday. He had little to say about why he left the school, but his parents said Evan told him he was trying to come home to his mom to play with his toys.
Like school officials, Evan’s parents were rattled by the incident. However, they were displeased with the school’s response.
“I feel the school should have had a policy in place,” said Bill Clifton, Evan’s dad.
Evan had been dismissed from his kindergarten class with at least one other student to go to the bathroom shortly before he left the school grounds. The other child returned without Evan, Clifton said.
After sending at least one more child to check to see if Evan was in the bathroom, the teacher reported him missing to the principal. The administrator immediately began looking for the child, school administrators say.
It’s not clear how long Evan was away from the school; his parents say he was found a half-mile away. The off-duty bus driver said the boy “was pouring sweat and as red as a tomato,” according to the boy’s mother, Trudy Mungall.
The school notified her and the boy’s stepfather, Chris Mungall. They then notified Bill Clifton, who lives in Atlanta. Clifton and Trudy Mungall, who said they “co-parent” Evan, met with the school’s vice principal Wednesday.
In an interview with The Star, Clifton said he believed young students should not be sent to bathrooms without adult supervision. Both parents are asking the school to adopt a policy that would restrict teachers from sending young students to the bathroom alone.
Evan’s parents also asked school officials to notify other parents in a letter that a child had wandered away from the school while under school supervision.
“I think the parents should be aware,” said Trudy Mungall.
However, school officials told the parents they would not send such a letter because they have no policy in place to do so.
Calhoun County Superintendent Joe Dyar also said the school system will not likely develop a potty policy. He said teachers dismiss students to the restrooms at their discretion.
Officials said they are reviewing their practices related to the event.
“Do we go back and re-evaluate? You better believe it,” Dyar said.
Star staff writer Laura Johnson: 256-235-3544. On Twitter@LJohnson_star.