Two Elk Grove parents are outraged after their 6-year-old son wandered away from an after-school program. The boy was later found by his father.
By then 6-year-old Makhai Stewart had not only walked off school property, he had crossed a busy street. His parents believe he was trying to walk home because he was told to go find his dad.
When Gregory Stewart got to his son's after-school program at Union House Elementary School, a staff member called the boy's teacher on a walkie talkie to send him to the cafeteria. A few minutes later, the teacher and the class arrived without his son. Stewart said the teacher was as surprised as he was that Makhai wasn't there.
"I'm looking around. I couldn't find him," Stewart said. "I run out, and I call my wife, and I'm like, 'Soph, they lost my baby. They lost our son.'"
That's when a staff member started asking Stewart for a description of Makhai.
"She comes up to me, and she says, 'hey, does Makhai have long braids, and is he wearing a bright orange shirt?' I'm like, 'yes.' She's like, 'oh, I think I saw him walking across the street,'" Stewart said. "So, I run to the edge of the street, and I look. I don't see him. Then I look towards the neighborhood, and I see him walking into the neighborhood."
He was able to get to his son safely, but the prospect of what could have happened terrified him.
"And I'm crying, and I'm just holding my son," Stewart said. "I'm happy I found him, but I'm upset that I had to go through that because that's your worst nightmare."
When Makhai's mom got to the school, she demanded answers from the staff and filled out a formal complaint.
"It breaks my heart," Sophia Stewart said. "You prepare your kids for so much, and we prepare our son what to expect from us. We're going to be there to pick you up; just stay with your class. How do I teach my son how to prepare what to do when the school drops the ball?"
"We certainly appreciate that they are concerned about this. We are too, and as a result of this incident, we have put in additional protocols to ensure that it doesn't take place again," Elk Grove Unified School District Communications Director Elizabeth Graswich said.
The district promises it will now require an adult to accompany first and second graders walking back to parents, and it will more closely monitor a gate that was accidentally left open. The principal called the family to apologize, but Sophia Stewart said that's too little, too late.
"I appreciate that she reached out, and it's unfortunate that it took this incident to happen to see a lot of the gaps in communication, but at least there's attention to it now," Sophia Stewart said.
Despite the apology from the principal and the changes the district plans to put in place, the Stewart Family said they just don't fee safe letting Makhai participate in the after school program.