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Mother of preschooler who left Lincoln Elementary pleased after meeting with school officials

Rick Wagner • Oct 5, 2019 at 11:30 AM

KINGSPORT — The mother of a 4-year-old preschooler who walked out of Lincoln Elementary School unnoticed Tuesday morning said Friday afternoon she’s convinced the school system is responding appropriately to prevent such incidents from happening again at any city school.

That includes staff training and annual retraining and an alarm and/or monitoring system that would cover side doors like the one Olivia Collins used to start her fourth-tenths-of-a-mile walk home. A stranger, Alyssa Hunter, said she saw the girl nearly get hit by a vehicle while trying to cross a street and walked her the rest of the way home.

Olivia’s mother, Tiffani Collins, and her husband met privately for an hour and a half Friday afternoon with Superintendent Jeff Moorhouse, Lincoln Principal Suzanne Zahner and Amy Doran, who coordinates the system’s early childhood education program and is a grant writer and principal at the Palmer Early Childhood Development Center. 

“They came to the meeting with some really good suggestions and ideas,” said Assistant Superintendent and system spokesman Andy True, who did not attend the meeting. “We were pleased to be able to have the conversation with the parents.”

The meeting was private, but Collins said she was impressed with how the system plans to respond, including emphasizing training on procedures for accounting for younger students during the school day in preschool settings.

“They’re planning a lot of different measures, not just at Lincoln Elementary, but across the district,” said Collins, whose family moved from North Carolina to Kingsport this summer and enrolled their three children at Lincoln. Four-year-old Olivia and her twin brother are in the Lincoln pre-K program, and their older brother is in first grade at Lincoln.

Collins withdrew her sons after Olivia slipped out of the school but said that all three will be back at school Monday. The system had no classes Friday because of a teacher in-service day.

Collins said the school system plans to be sure all elementary teachers and staff are trained on procedures to keep track of younger students, especially focusing on pre-K teachers and a pool of substitute teachers generally assigned to pre-K, which True confirmed.

Collins said she and her husband were not allowed to view video showing her daughter leaving the school but that it was described to them, fit in with what Olivia told them and that they did not push to view the video.

“My husband and I were very pleased how it went,” Collins said, adding that the school system officials took their concerns seriously.

Collins also said Tennessee’s Child Protective Services came to the couple’s house Friday and also visited the school after the school system notified that agency of the incident. True said the school system self-reported the incident to CPS.

“Our goal is not to continue to bash Kingsport but to make it known we have seen the school accepting responsibility,” Collins said of the incident and subsequent media attention.

 True said Moorhouse plans to present the issue at the next meeting of superintendents and school directors from the region to help head off similar issues in other systems and perhaps gather input on possible solutions. 

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