5-year-old leaves Biloxi school unnoticed; Mother blames budget cuts

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - By Danielle Thomas – bio | email

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Six minutes. That's how long it took to find a Biloxi kindergartner who went missing from her school. School officials say no one noticed when the five-year-old walked out of Jeff Davis Elementary. However, they say the staff soon realized the child was gone and within minutes the school was on lock down and a frantic search was underway. The child's mother said considering where she ended up, the outcome could have been much worse.

The Biloxi Schools Superintendent called a meeting with every principal in the district Thursday afternoon. Dr. Paul Tisdale wanted to review safety and security plans and figure out what changes need to be made to make sure no child goes missing from school again.

Kaylyn Causer is a kindergartner at Jeff Davis Elementary. The little girl said she spotted a doggie out the window, opened a door and went outside.

"I was walking him home," said Kaylyn.

Kaylyn's attempt to walk home took her down St. Mary Boulevard to busy Pass Road. Kaylyn's mother said she was told her daughter was out in the street and drenched from the heavy rain.

"It's sheer panic to know my daughter was walking down a busy road, trying to cross the street," said Andrea Causer.

School officials say a passerby affiliated with the school district saw the little girl and returned her to Jeff Davis unharmed. Her mothers said she doesn't blame the school staff for her daughter going missing. She blames budget cuts.

"I think they are overwhelmed," said Causer. "The number of students compared to the number of teachers here is outrageous. It's way too many. The budget cuts have allowed for not enough security. There's too many exits to this place. My daughter just walked right out of a building. How do you not notice that? It's scary."

Biloxi closed three schools at the end of last year including Beauvoir Elementary. About half of Beauvoir Elementary's students were sent to Jeff Davis.

Dr. Paul Tisdale is the superintendent of the Biloxi School District. He said Jeff Davis had the same enrollment now that it had 25 years ago with fewer classrooms and fewer teachers, so lack of staff is not the problem. He said he can understand why parents might think the staff was overwhelmed.

"There's been an increase. About 100 students more than we anticipated at Jeff Davis," said Dr. Tisdale. "The enrollment is about 625. We anticipated it would be somewhere around 530 or 540. "

Dr. Tisdale said the increase is due to new military housing becoming available.

"I think the issue is not that we don't have enough adults on campus to supervise, but that we need to be sure that we have adults in the right places and positioned appropriately. "

School officials say after having breakfast, Kaylyn walked out of the cafeteria. Instead of going back to class, she went the opposite direction and out an exit door that only opens from the inside. Dr. Tisdale said there was a staff member nearby, but that person was standing inside the cafeteria door and didn't see the child go outside.

"In this instance, literally standing on a different side of a doorway would have helped notice exactly when a student left campus and may could have prevented it," said Dr. Tisdale.

Dr. Paul Tisdale said the district is waiting to see if student enrollment continues to increase to evaluate which doors or gates need to be locked or unlocked. He said teachers assistants will be escorting the children to and from the cafeteria.

"We'll be reviewing the safety and security plans at each school," said Dr. Tisdale. "That's why I'm meeting with principals today. We certainly want them to feel that their children are safe in Biloxi schools and certainly cognizant that safety is the first and foremost issue when kids come to school."

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