Imagine your child not coming home after their first day of school. That became a temporary reality for one South Bend family on Monday.
While it's still unclear what led to the mix-up, the parents of Antoine White Jr., 4, say it should have never happened.
The situation occurred at the LaFayette Early Childhood Center on South Bend's far west side. The facility, a product of the government-sponsored Head Start program, has already launched an investigation.
The first day of pre-school came with excitement for Antoine White Jr. You could see it in his sprint to the curb, at the first glimpse of his bus.
On the other side of the spectrum, the day was uneasy for his parents, as they let their child ride alone on a bus, for more than eight miles across town.
Although Antoine arrived at school without a hitch, he never came home on time.
"We were standing out here, waiting to take pictures as he got off the bus. But, the bus didn't come as it was supposed to,” Antoine’s dad Antoine White Sr. said.
The buses left the school on-time; all twelve of them, but none had Antoine.
"A million things go through your head during that time. My wife here, she was distraught after three or four attempts of trying to call the school and they said no one was there. There were three or four attempts calling the bus drivers and they were saying no one was on the bus,” Antoine Sr. added.
For a school with 387 kids all under the age of six, it seemed one had gone missing and was nowhere to be found.
"He could have gotten out, he could have been anywhere. He could have been walking around on the streets or anything,” Antoine’s mother LaToya White said.
In the end, it took nearly three hours for Antoine to be reunited with his parents at his school. Officials are preliminarily citing poor communication as the primary factor.
"I thought I was never going to see my son again. It was very scary. I’m still scared to let him get on the bus. It's just all a bad situation,” LaToya concluded.
On Tuesday, Head Start Executive Director, Dr. Kathy Guajardo released this statement:
“Head Start has procedures in place that require children to wear lanyards that contain identifying information. In this instance, the child was not given his lanyard when he boarded the school bus and, because it was the first day of school, was misidentified when he arrived at school. The child, however, was supervised at all times from the time he was placed on the school bus by his parent until he was personally returned to his parents. Head Start takes the issue of child supervision very seriously and will investigate this matter thoroughly and will take all appropriate steps to avoid a similar situation.”
At this point, it’s still unclear who, if anyone is to blame. That however should come to light pending Head Start’s ongoing investigation. Of course there are a lot of stories to cross-check and surveillance videos to review before school leaders make a final determination.