Jefferson-Houston Elementary School administrators put on leave after autistic 4-year-old walked away from school

A four-year-old student with autism walked away from Jefferson-Houston Elementary School in Old Town last month and was found barefoot in the middle the street by a school bus driver near the King Street Metro station.

A number of school officials were consequently placed on administrative leave by Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt.

The incident occurred after school on Tuesday, March 19. Brianna Davis-Suggs took an Uber to pick up her daughter, Riley, and was told at the door that a teacher was getting her. Moments later, Davis-Suggs overheard on a walkie-talkie that a student in the school was missing.

It didn’t occur to Davis-Suggs that they were talking about Riley.

“All I remember is when they told me she was missing that I was crying so bad,” Davis-Suggs said. “I’m very upset. But at the same time, I’m just very grateful to still be able to say my daughter’s here.”

Davis-Suggs said that a school bus driver saw the Pre-K student in the middle of the tunnel near the entrance of the King Street Metro station at King Street and Commonwealth Avenue. Riley walked less than a half mile from the school to where she was found.

Davis-Suggs says that a bus monitor lured her daughter out of the street and into the bus with a lollipop.

“Your average child shouldn’t just take candy or anything from a stranger that they don’t know,” Davis-Suggs said. “I’m happy it was good people that actually found her. But at the same time, it’s just a scary, and the school should definitely know a lot of different things about her by now.”

An Alexandria Police Department dispatch confirmed that the child was found minutes after school let out at around 2:18 p.m.

Superintendent Melanie Kay-Wyatt said in a letter to parents that she placed a number of administrative staff at the school on administrative leave, including the head of school and academic principal.

“Several employees, including administrative staff, have been placed on administrative leave this week,” Kay-Wyatt wrote. “In the interim, I have placed some new administrative and support staff at Jefferson-Houston while this matter is being investigated.”

Riley hasn’t gone back to school at Jefferson-Houston since.

Davis-Suggs, 22, also attended Jefferson-Houston Elementary School. As for her own child, she says she later met with school administrators who wanted her to bring Riley back to school. While she has no plans to sue the school system, she’s now looking for a new school for her daughter.

“As of right now, I really just want my daughter to be in a better school, and I want her to get the resources she needs,” Davis-Suggs said. “I Still don’t know the exact best option to go about it right now because I’m very upset.”

D.C. News Now was first to report on this story.

Kay-Wyatt’s full statement to parents after the incident is below:

Dear Jefferson-Houston PreK-8 IB Families and Staff,

I am writing to share an important update with families and staff about a student safety concern and some leadership changes at Jefferson-Houston. You may be aware that a young Jefferson-Houston student left school grounds and was unsupervised for a portion of the afternoon on March, 19, 2024. This is deeply concerning for me as an educator and as a parent. Families should feel confident that their children are safe in our schools, and I want you all to know that this matter is being taken seriously, and that further changes will be forthcoming. Several employees, including administrative staff, have been placed on administrative leave this week. In the interim, I have placed some new administrative and support staff at Jefferson-Houston while this matter is being investigated.

Specifically, Ms. PreeAnn Johnson will serve as acting head of schools at Jefferson-Houston. Ms. Johnson is the retired principal from James K. Polk Elementary School and has been serving in a variety of administrative roles at Alexandria City Public Schools (ACPS) since her retirement. Currently, she has been serving as transition administrator at Alexandria City High School – King Street Campus. In addition, Ms. Julia Neufer is going to be the acting academic principal. Ms. Neufer is currently serving as the division STEM coordinator & elementary math instructional specialist. Both will assume these roles on Thursday, April 11, 2024 and will continue until further notice.

We understand that these changes can be concerning for some staff and families given the immediacy. Our team is here to support the Jefferson-Houston school community as we take these matters very seriously.

We will provide you with further updates in regard to future leadership adjustments as that information becomes available. Thank you for your patience and understanding as we work to support the students and staff with these new assignments.

For any questions regarding this update, please send an email to [email protected]. Please keep in mind that any questions related to personnel matters are unable to be addressed.

I am confident that Ms. Johnson and Ms. Neufer will serve the Jefferson-Houston community well and support the school in keeping on track as we work to finish out the school year strong.


Dr. Melanie Kay-Wyatt

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