PORTLAND — Two elementary students from the East End Community School were mistakenly bused home and dropped off at empty houses twice last week, spurring changes in the school’s dismissal system.

Starting this week, all students at the school are getting tickets indicating their after-school plans, whether they’re taking the bus, walking home or attending a recreation program. Previously, only students taking the bus got tickets at the end of the day.

Principal Marcia Gendron said Tuesday that the addition is meant to reinforce the “checks and balances” for making sure the school has the correct information about where students are supposed to go after classes end.

According to news reports, a 6-year-old was stranded outside his home for two hours in the rain on Sept. 6 before a neighbor picked him up.

On Friday, 8-year-old Mackenzie Ross was dropped off at her house in Kennedy Park, got scared because no one was at home and decided to walk back to the school on North Street. She was about a block away when another parent saw her and brought her inside the school, said her mother, Meaghan Ross.

Ross said there were two mix-ups last year in which Mackenzie was dropped off at an empty house. One time, she was taken in by a neighbor. The other time, the recreation program’s staff found her shortly afterward.

In Friday’s incident, about an hour went by before anyone knew where Mackenzie was.

Mackenzie’s grandfather, Richard Ross, said there’s no amount of time that a child’s whereabouts should be unknown. “One minute is too long,” he said.

A data system keeps track of students’ after-school plans, Gendron said, but failures in the system can occur.

For example, she said, if a child’s name is misspelled when a change is made in the system, the information won’t get recorded correctly. Or if a staff member gets a note from a parent but doesn’t tell anyone else, Gendron said, the school won’t have it on record.

Gendron wouldn’t comment specifically on last week’s incidents, other than to confirm that two students took the bus and were dropped off at empty homes when they were supposed to be at an after-school recreation program at the school.

Hearing about the incidents last week changed Mia Houser’s mind about how her kindergartner will get home from school.

“My daughter’s not taking the bus,” she said as she waited Tuesday afternoon to pick up 5-year-old Danni from the East End school.

Gendron said that 75 percent to 80 percent of the school’s 430 students take one of five buses. Keeping track of the daily changes to each student’s after-school plans, she said, is “an incredibly complex enterprise.”

Strengthening communication among staff members, having students understand their plans and following up with parents are some of the ways the school is addressing the issues with its dismissal system, Gendron said.

Richard Ross said he knows that keeping track of every child is difficult, but it’s unacceptable to allow anyone to fall through the cracks.

“One child is too many, that’s for sure,” he said, “especially when it’s yours.”

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]