Jefferson-Houston admins placed on leave

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Jefferson-Houston admins placed on leave
Two administrators were placed on leave following a child going missing from campus in March. (Photo/Jordan Tovin)
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By Wafir Salih | wsalih@alextimes.com

Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt, Ed.D., announced in an April 9 letter to parents and staff that top administrators at Jefferson-Houston Elementary School had been placed on administrative leave due to an incident that took place March 19.

The incident involved a 4-year-old nonverbal and autistic student who had wandered off of school property and was found nearly a half-mile away near the King Street Metro station.

While Kay-Wyatt did not name the administrators who had been placed on leave, research by the Times, which was confirmed by an ACPS employee who asked to not be identified, indicated that Jefferson-Houston Transformational Head of School John McCain, Ed.D., and Academic Principal Tiffany Young were the top administrators that Kay-Wyatt placed on administrative leave.

A parent of a student at Jefferson-Houston also spoke with the Times under a request of anonymity about the incident and highlighted how difficult the situation must have been. The parent will be referred to under the alias “Mary Nancy.”

“I cannot imagine what that parent must feel like. If I had a child who was four years old and nonverbal, I would be terrified too because she can’t say her name [or] tell anybody who she is. It’s the scariest thing you can think of as a parent,” Nancy said.

Nancy emphasized how parents and staff have been asking for more resources to go into the special education services at Jefferson-Houston for the past seven years.

“There are not enough resources to make sure that these kids are taught in the way that they need to be taught, with the resources they need to be safe,” she said.

The ACPS employee reached out to the Times via email under anonymity and expressed mixed feelings about the administrative changes, but also said school staff need to do better.

“I have seen some things that I don’t agree with, but I’m not the type of person that wants to see someone lose their job. The staff that is at the school needs to do better,” the employee wrote.

The employee highlighted how dismissal time at the end of the school can sometimes be hectic.

“When it’s time to leave, it’s a bit chaotic, and some of the teachers are focused on getting the kids out, but not paying attention to where they’re going,” the employee wrote.

And, the employee said they didn’t understand how the child had wandered off as far as she did.

“There are several doors around the school, and what I guess is that the child may have used one of those doors to get out, but what I can not understand is how did she get that far?” the employee said.

Nancy said she believes this is a district-level problem and doesn’t agree with Jefferson-Houston administrators taking the blame for what happened.

“I don’t understand why the Jefferson-Houston administrators were put on leave. One of the administrators they put on leave isn’t even involved in the pre-K program at all. … They weren’t even involved with that grade at all,” Nancy said. “I think ACPS should be taking responsibility for not having adequately provided the resources that this child needed to learn in a safe way.”

According to a report by D.C. News Now, which broke the story, Brianna Davis-Suggs arrived at the school to pick up her daughter, Riley, on March 19. Davis-Suggs said she waited for more than 15 minutes and noticed school officials searching for a missing student.

“I hear over the walkie-talkies ‘there’s a child missing,’ not even knowing it was my daughter,” Davis-Suggs said to D.C. News Now.

Police scanner audio from openmhz.com, recorded at 2:18 p.m. on March 19, reveals that officers from the Alexandria Police Department located Riley at the Metro station, and an officer noted in the recording that she was found barefoot.

In a Facebook post, Davis-Suggs shared how she felt in the immediate aftermath of learning her child was the one that had gone missing.

“I was standing outside waiting for a good 15 mins before I saw the principal, administration and school staff running out of the school building when I overheard on the walkies talkies that my child was lost,” Davis-Suggs wrote in the Facebook post. “I couldn’t fight back my tears knowing that she had crossed streets with no shoes on and was found under the tunnel at King St. Metro Station.”

In a letter to Jefferson-Houston parents, Kay-Wyatt highlighted how concerning the incident was and stated that many employees had been put on administrative leave as a result.

“You may be aware that a young Jefferson-Houston student left school grounds and was unsupervised for a portion of the afternoon on March 19, 2024. This is deeply concerning for me as an educator and as a parent. Families should feel confident that their children are safe in our schools, and I want you all to know that this matter is being taken seriously, and that further changes will be forthcoming. Several employees, including administrative staff, have been placed on administrative leave this week. In the interim, I have placed some new administrative and support staff at Jefferson-Houston while this matter is being investigated,” Kay-Wyatt wrote in the letter.

Kay-Wyatt also stated PreeAnn Johnson, a former principal for James K. Polk Elementary, would take over as the acting head of schools at Jefferson-Houston, with Julia Neufer, who currently serves as the division’s STEM coordinator as well as a math instructor, would become the acting academic principal. Both Johnson and Neufer assumed their roles on April 11.

ACPS declined to provide further comment to the Times, stating that they would not comment on personnel matters and that the incident is currently being investigated.

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