Kindergartner becomes lost in the shuffle

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Melissa Bailey takes her son Donivan, 6, to talk to the bus drivers at Fritsch Elementary School to figure out how he got lost trying to get home Tuesday.

BRAD HORN/Nevada Appeal Melissa Bailey takes her son Donivan, 6, to talk to the bus drivers at Fritsch Elementary School to figure out how he got lost trying to get home Tuesday.

Donivan Bailey slammed his locker door back and forth. The racket was enough to put him in the sights of his teacher.

Take a time-out, the teacher told the 6-year-old kindergartner Tuesday as she helped other students get their stuff ready for the walk to the buses. Usually she has a teacher's aide to help, but not today.

Donivan knew what time-out meant. You had to sit quietly, and watch the sand fall through a three-minute egg timer. He shuffled to a table and sat down.

The sounds of his classmates faded as the teacher walked them from the classroom. Donivan was left alone, faithfully watching the sand fall.

Shane Dennis, the father of Donivan's friend Tyler, came into the empty classroom to drop off his son's folder.

"What's going on, dude?" he asked the pint-sized noisemaker who also happens to be his neighbor.

"I got in trouble. I'm in time-out," Donivan told him.

Shane Dennis nodded his head in understanding and left.

When the sand got near the end, the grains raced through the opening into the bottom bowl and Donivan grabbed his backpack and headed out of the room.

He made his way through heavy glass doors to the outside.

Four buses sat lined up in front of Fritsch Elementary School. Donivan wasn't sure which bus was his. He was usually led there by either his teacher or an aide.

He ran onto the bus closest to him.

At the top of the stairs he searched the chattering faces of his schoolmates, looking for his brother, Julian, 9. But this Tuesday was Julian's first Spanish lesson. It went until 4 p.m., so he wouldn't be riding with his little brother on Tuesdays anymore.

"I think I'm on the wrong bus," Donivan told the driver.

She told him to get off and find his bus.

He stepped off and looked around, then hopped back on. The driver didn't notice.

As the bus rumbled out of the lot, Donivan settled into a seat. It was about five stops later when he decided to get off.

He walked along the sidewalk with cars whizzing by. He may have crossed Highway 395 into the parking lot of the Harley-Davidson dealership in North Carson.

"He told me he walked past the motorcycles," mom Melissa said.

Donivan possibly made his way past the Dollar Tree, walked across a dirt lot behind it, and ended up on Northgate Lane.

On Northgate, a woman driving a red car stopped and asked him where he was going. Donivan told her he was going home.

She asked him if he wanted a ride. He climbed into the back seat.

Near the new freeway overpass across College Parkway on Northgate Lane, Donivan asked to be let out. She complied.

He played there for awhile before a man "in one of those hard-hats told me to get off the bridge."

So he continued north on Northgate. At Arrowhead Drive, near a house with a white picket fence, Laura Dennis - wife of the neighbor who'd talked to Donivan in time-out - spotted him about 4:15 p.m.

"He had a doe-eyed look about him, like 'Please pick me up,'" she said. She took him home.

Melissa, Donivan's mom, was frantic. Her smallest son hadn't walked off the school bus at 3:30 p.m. like he was supposed to.

She called the school, she called the bus depot. No answer. She and husband Corey Howel drove to the elementary school.

Principal Dave Aalbers said Donivan wasn't there. He called the teacher. The teacher said she was sure she walked Donivan to his bus.

Melissa was panicked.

They decided to check at home again. Corey went inside the apartment where he saw Donivan's backpack. Melissa went to check for him at the neighbors' house.

There she found her son.

"She was shaking and crying," Shane Dennis said.

"After all the work we do, trying to have people be aware of their surroundings and be compassionate and passionate about what they are doing, this boy falls through the cracks," said Mike Mitchell, director of operations for the Carson City School District. "This was an incredible set of circumstances that came together that let it happen."

Thursday, Mitchell, Aalbers and Debbie Childers, supervisor of transportation services, met with Donivan and his parents in front of Fritsch. Melissa walked up and down the row of buses, asking drivers if they recognized her son.

The driver of the bus Donivan was supposed to be on said she remembers him on Tuesday saying he was on the wrong bus. She remembers telling him to get off the bus and find the right one.

"I don't even know his name," she told Melissa.

Donivan is not much help in getting to the bottom of the mixup. At 6 years old, the same questions over and over by adults seem silly. What's much more fun is to scrunch up his nose, squint his eyes, smile a wide toothy smile and not answer. It's also more fun to run a tiny skateboard along his big brother's shirt.

School officials plan to review digital and video recordings of the buses Donivan could have ridden. It's still a mystery what route he took that day. But why the mixup happened seems simple enough to answer.

"Everybody left Donivan to his own devices," Mitchell said.

He was forgotten by a teacher who had 22 other students to track and overlooked by a bus driver who didn't notice Donivan was lost.

"This is high-stake stuff," Mitchell said. "Losing a kid through a set of just incredible incidental events. You can excuse it on one hand, and on the other hand you just say we are so lucky and what are we going to do to keep this from happening again. We do things right every day, and last Tuesday we didn't. "

- Contact reporter F.T. Norton at or 881-1213.


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