Mom felt ‘sheer terror’ after child left behind

MARSHALL – In a span of 24 hours, Jackie Whylly’s emotions swung from terror, to relief, to anger. And now she wants answers.

Whylly’s 4-year-old son AJ was mistakenly left behind after a field trip to the Children’s Museum in Brookings, S.D., on Tuesday.

“Sheer terror” is how Whylly described her feelings as she and her husband, Antoine, made the drive to Brookings to pick up their son. “Never in a million years, as a parent, would you think of getting a phone call like that.”

Whylly said her son handled the situation about as well as could be expected.

“He wasn’t crying; when we got him in the car he was hungry. He hasn’t really said much. It’s just the worst thing ever, the scariest feeling we’ve ever had as parents.”

Jackie Whylly said the couple was told they could pick their son up at Park Side Elementary at 2:45 p.m. on Tuesday upon the class’ return to Marshall. But when Antoine Whylly got there, he was told his son was left in Brookings, according to Jackie Whylly. She said the school told her husband it would send someone to go get him, but Antoine Whylly insisted he and his wife make the trip to retrieve their son.

Marshall Schools Superintendent Klint Willert said staff realized the child was missing about 10 to 15 minutes before arriving in Marshall – and deployed a staff member back to the museum to be with the child until his parents arrived.

“As a parent, I feel like this community has let me down,” Jackie Whylly said. “I still feel like there’s no answers, that’s why I’m just appalled. It’s a public place, anybody could’ve gone in there and took him. Anything could’ve happened. I’m like, ‘I want answers.'”

The Whyllys contacted the police initially and filled out a statement.

Making matters worse is the fact that the Whyllys’ son has a speech disability, which partially limits his ability to communicate.

“He should’ve been watched even more” because of that, Jackie Whylly said. “Somebody with special needs should have a little bit more supervision. When my husband asked the teacher how this could happen, the teacher said they did a head count and he must’ve went back in to use the bathroom.”

The Whylly family has been in Marshall for two years after moving from North Dakota.

Jackie Whylly kept AJ home from school Thursday and said the information the school district is releasing about the incident isn’t factual.

She said Thursday afternoon she declined an invitation to meet with school officials because she didn’t want to go into any meeting without an attorney. Willert said the school has made “several attempts” to meet directly with the parents.

“We continue to extend outreach and our sincere apologies to the parents through this process,” he said. “This is not the way we do business or schools do business in general.”

One teacher has been put on administrative leave, Willert said.

Willert said the school district has contacted an attorney to initiate an investigation on district’s behalf but said “in no way are we going to pursue anything other than that. We’ll do our due diligence to do a comprehensive investigation to have a clear picture of what transpired and how it transpired.”

Willert said the 45 children on the trip were chaperoned by 23 parents – 20 on the bus and three in separate vehicles – two paraprofessionals and two teachers for a total of 27 adults. Two students, he said, rode home with their parents.

Willert said school staff took part in a meeting Thursday afternoon to go over school board policy on field trips. Staff and administration also did a review of student trip procedures at the meeting.

“Some of those procedures include how we account for students and what we do with students when they’re on the bus to be sure we have those students accounted for by doing what seem to be relatively simple but important things,” he said.