Report: Sleeping child locked in classroom while fellow students graduated

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Six-year-old boy was supposed to be on stage during his kindergarten graduation. Instead, he was allegedly left unattended sleeping under his teacher’s desk.

By Heather Osbourne | 315-4440 | @heatheronwfdn | hosbourne@nwfdailynews.com

DEFUNIAK SPRINGS — An investigation is underway regarding a 6-year-old boy who was left sleeping inside a classroom alone Friday while the rest of his classmates graduated.

Maude Saunders Elementary School student Corey Jackson was supposed to be on stage during his kindergarten graduation. But when his mother, Kari Owens, and his adult cousin, Akela Whitehead, got to the graduation ceremony, they couldn’t find Corey. The two women started to panic, they said.

“We went up to his teacher and asked where he was,” Whitehead said. “She told us that she had left him inside of the classroom and locked the door because she couldn’t wake him up.”

“She just kept smiling at us and told me it was OK, he was only in there for about 45 minutes to an hour,” Owens added. 

Assistant Principal Wyndy Crozier said Owens’ allegations were reported to the Department of Children and Family Services (DCF) and the Walton County Sheriff’s Office on Friday. Crozier said the teacher in question refrained from telling her anything about the incident.

“Nothing is verified yet,” Crozier said. “I’m waiting for the DCF investigation. The child had been having episodes of sleeping in the classroom. The teacher had been talking to the mom about getting to the bottom of it. He’s very difficult to wake.”

Corey’s mom said they were instructed by the teacher to wait a moment before she walked with them to retrieve her son. Instead, they rushed to the classroom and pulled on the door, which was unlocked. 

“I started screaming for my youngin and he didn’t answer me,” Owens said. “We turned around to try to find the teacher. She walked in, turned the light on and started talking to other parents who walked into the classroom. I screamed, asking where Corey was. She pointed under her desk.”

Maude Saunders is still allowing the teacher of 19 years to continue working with students while under investigation because the “child was unharmed,” Crozier said. The school has not checked any hallway cameras to confirm or deny Owens’ claims. 

“If it did happen, it’s not our protocol to leave a child unattended,” Crozier said. “We would have someone with them, like an aide or a nurse. We would not have left him alone.

“This is something that I can’t support if the person did do this,” Crozier continued. “If the outcome of the investigation shows this happened, then we’ll decide the disciplinary action. Safety is No. 1 to us. It’s above everything else.”

Walton County School Board Superintendent Russell Hughes did not comment on the incident, referring all questions to Crozier, according to Hughes’ receptionist. 

Owens did not allow Corey to attend school Monday.

“This is not going to be swept under the rug,” Whitehead said. “The child could have been dead in the classroom. What if he had a serious medical condition? What if there was a fire? Why was he under the desk? Children should be accounted for at all times.”

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