OJO AMARILLO — When Kayla Price, 4, came out of her school bathroom late last month and found that all of her teachers and peers were gone, she was scared.
The lights were all turned off, and the doors were locked at her preschool, Head Start in Upper Fruitland.
Not one person was at the preschool because the staff had taken the less than 20 other students to Shiprock for a field trip. Price waited in the bathroom for more than four hours before the staff and children returned.
"(The staff) should have been more alert. That's their job," said Kayla's mother, Charlia Price.
The staff and children had taken a school bus, and, even though they did a head count before they loaded onto the bus, they did not do one after. Staff realized that one of the children was missing when they arrived in Shiprock.
Charlia Price and her husband had been driving to Albuquerque for an appointment and turned around after a staff member called them to ask if the couple had their daughter with them.
"My husband sped all the way back," she said. "We were crying."
Meanwhile, a staff member drove back from Shiprock to check if the 4-year-old was at the school. But the staff member left her keys to the building on the bus, which was still in Shiprock.
It was another hour before the bus returned with the remaining staff and the children, upon which they found the little girl waiting at the door.
A staff member from Head Start in Upper Fruitland, who would not give her name, declined to comment when asked about the incident on Thursday.
"We don't have anything to say about it," she said, noting that the staff involved in the incident made statements already to their supervisor.
She said the necessary steps were taken to remedy the situation. She also said that the Price family was making a bigger deal of the incident than was necessary.
Staff at the Head Start in Shiprock, which oversees the Upper Fruitland operation, also declined comment and referred questions to Sharon Singer, assistant superintendent of Navajo Nation Head Start.
Singer could not be immediately reached for comment Thursday afternoon.
Charlia Price said she and her husband decided to pull their daughter out of the Head Start program in Upper Fruitland. Next year, Kayla will be enrolled at the preschool program at Ojo Amarillo Elementary School, which is down the street from where the Price family lives.
Since the incident, Kayla has been asking to sleep with the lights on, Charlia Price said.
Her parents are mainly just glad that she was unharmed during the four hours that she was left alone.
"We were mad, but we were also relieved," Charlia Price said. "We just want to make sure this doesn't happen again."
Jenny Kane can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org; 505-564-4636. Follow her on Twitter @Jenny_Kane