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Florida mom trespassed after she says school ‘lost’ her kid — twice; principal disputes her account

Audubon Elementary on Merritt Island
Audubon Elementary on Merritt Island (Copyright 2020 Florida Today)

The mother of a student at Audubon Elementary on Merritt Island was issued a trespass warning from the school last week after an emotionally charged incident she said resulted when the school “lost” her first-grade daughter — twice, News 6 partner Florida Today reported.

The principal said the school made mistakes but that the child was never lost, and 29-year-old Kayla Magnuson was issued a trespass warning by a Brevard County deputy after threatening the school.

Audubon Principal Candace Jones has since spoken with Magnuson and said she considered the issue resolved, but Magnuson — who withdrew her daughter from the school the day after the incident — told Florida Today she wasn’t ready to let it go.

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Magnuson and Jones have offered competing accounts of the incident, which took place during dismissal Sept. 21, and some details have been difficult to independently verify.

What both parties agree on, however, is that Magnuson’s daughter should have been waiting in the car loop when her mother arrived that afternoon to pick her up from school. Instead, the school had mistakenly placed 7-year-old Gina on a school bus, bound for a stop near Magnuson’s former home on Merritt Island.

Jones said the bus hadn’t yet left the school but said the staff didn’t get a chance to tell Magnuson that before — according to a case report filed by the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office — Magnuson began “causing a scene,” shouting and swearing in front of students, a teacher and the school resource officer.

Jones said Magnuson was issued the trespass warning after making a threat during the encounter, telling the teacher she was “going to go (expletive) postal on the school,” according to the case report.

“We take the concerns of all our parents very seriously,” Jones said in an email to Florida Today. “We take equally seriously any threats made to our school and/or staff. The decision to trespass Ms. Magnuson was made after several warnings and out of an abundance of caution for our students and employees who witnessed the incident.”

But Magnuson said there were no warnings. She also said she didn’t threaten anyone. “What I said was, ‘If someone doesn’t find my child, I’m going to go postal,’” Magnuson said. “That’s a big difference.”

Magnuson admitted she used inappropriate language, but said her anger was justified: a nearly identical situation had played out just a month before on Aug. 24, the first day of school.

“This is how school started for me,” Magnuson said, recounting the first incident. “I went to pick my daughter through the car loop and her former teacher from the year prior ... told me they had sent her to aftercare. It seemed like an honest mistake.”

But staff didn’t find Gina in aftercare, she said. Instead, after checking with the girl’s teacher, they told Magnuson she was on the bus heading for her former neighborhood.

Magnuson said she raced from the school and made it to the stop just as her daughter was dropped off. Had she not arrived when she did, she said, her 7-year-old could have been left alone on the side of the road, miles from her current home.

“I made it just in the nick of time,” she said.

Magnuson said she had arranged for Gina to ride the bus occasionally, but only on specific dates she would indicate in writing to the school, per school district policy. She had not given her permission for either Aug. 24 or Sept. 21, she said.

But during the September incident, Magnuson said Jones blamed her for the mistake, pointing to a bus note she had allegedly written for that date.

“There was no apology from her,” Magnuson said. “She just messed up and instead she was trying to justify it. ... She’s trying to shift the blame.”

In an email to Florida Today, Jones again stated Magnuson had given permission for her daughter to ride the bus. But in a follow-up email, Jones admitted Magnuson had in fact not written a note for Sept. 21 but instead left a voicemail with the teacher, which Magnuson also denied.

In a later phone interview, Jones walked that back as well.

“There were not any voicemails to my knowledge, after meeting with communications (staff),” Jones said. In an email, she attributed the shifting information to a “more thorough review of the incident” but did not provide further details.

Jones ultimately called the Sept. 21 incident a “misunderstanding,” which she blamed on a miscommunication between Magnuson and her daughter’s teacher. She said the school had already taken “full responsibility” for the incident on Aug. 24. The school had generated bus permissions that day for all students who were riding the bus and mistakenly included Gina before clarifying the arrangement with her mother, Jones said.

Jones did not say whether the school was wrong to trespass Magnuson. She said there had been previous “encounters” in which Magnuson became angry and talked inappropriately toward school staff, but did not go into detail.

Magnuson admitted other heated interactions with the school but said that didn’t justify kicking her off school property.

“You cannot trespass parents when they are emotionally distraught when they don’t know where their child is,” she said.

Magnuson said Jones called her a few days after the incident to discuss lifting the trespass warning and re-enrolling her daughter at Audubon, which she declined.

Jones insisted several times that “at no time was her daughter missing or lost.”

“Her teacher and the staff entrusted to her care at dismissal time were well aware of her being in the bus line,” she said. “The error in communication did nothing to hamper our efforts to keep her safe.”

Russell Bruhn, a spokesman for the school district, said the district had looked into the issue following the initial complaint but did not say whether it had opened a formal investigation.

“District representatives talked to the mother. ... We talked to teachers and staff who were on-scene,” Bruhn said. “We’re happy no child was ever lost, no child was ever unaccounted for and no child ever had their safety compromised. Obviously, that’s our goal as a whole.”

Magnuson said she had received sincere apologies from Gina’s former teacher, which she accepted and appreciated. She has since enrolled her daughter at Lewis Caroll Elementary.

Jones told Florida Today she was “sad” this incident had received attention from the media.

“We have teachers here working so hard. That a parent can make a scene and can get this kind of publicity makes me very sad,” she said. “It saddens me as a leader of this school that this is where our focus is.”