Authorities found school program unlicensed after 4-year-old went missing

A 4-year-old girl in the care of La Petite Ecole went missing during a trip to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in Christchurch.  (File photo)

STACY SQUIRES/Things

A 4-year-old girl in the care of La Petite Ecole went missing during a trip to the Margaret Mahy Family Playground in Christchurch. (File photo)

A school program has been halted after a 4-year-old girl went missing during a trip to a downtown playground.

The girl’s disappearance led authorities to believe that Alliance Francais Christchurch’s La Petite Ecole program “did not fall within the Education and Training Act 2020” and was not a recognized early education service, said Department of Education’s Nancy Bell.

Alliance Francais is a local non-profit organization that offers courses for adults and children to immerse themselves in French culture and social events.

The weekly program of La Petite Ecole was canceled on 9 September – nine days after a child went missing in the Margaret Mahy Family Playground.

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Alliance Francais offers courses for adults and children to immerse themselves in French culture and social events.

Peter Meecham / Stuff

Alliance Francais offers courses for adults and children to immerse themselves in French culture and social events.

Nichola Wells-Zeier was at the playground with her own children that afternoon and said she “barely slept” after trying to help find the missing girl.

At the playground, she had seen about 12 children wearing safety vests with a few attendants.

“About 15 minutes later a lady comes over and says softly, ‘Have you seen this child?’”

The only information she could get from the woman was that the missing girl was wearing a pink vest and had brown hair.

“She couldn’t say what she was wearing or even how her hair was done.”

The program leaders turned out to be “no urgency, no action, and they were so blasé”, while the rest of the parents went into “overdrive”.

One of the parents called the police, she said.

After the incident, the ministry found that the program did not meet licensing requirements. Alliance Francais then “made the decision to stop working immediately”.

Alliance Francais and its president did not respond to requests for comment.

The mother of the missing child, Sandrine Sunley, said it was a “pure miracle” that her daughter was not hit by a car during the 35 minutes she was known to have been missing.

The 4-year-old's mother, Sandrine Sunley, says her daughter was missing for at least 35 minutes and was eventually found by a member of the public just before crossing a busy street.  (File photo)

CHRISTCHURCHNZ.COM

The 4-year-old’s mother, Sandrine Sunley, says her daughter was missing for at least 35 minutes and was eventually found by a member of the public just before crossing a busy street. (File photo)

“She crossed Armagh St alone…and walked all the way to Madras St, all the way to Kilmore St and was about to cross that very busy intersection.”

She said it was lucky that an honest man stopped in the street to help her daughter.

When asked where her parents were, Sunley said her daughter told him, “I want to go to my mom,” and told her where she worked.

The man called the police and took her to a nearby office connected to Sunley’s workplace.

It took staff there 20 minutes to reach the number on a lanyard her daughter was wearing, she said.

RNZ

Figures from the Ministry of Education show a dramatic decline in the number of new early childhood services being set up and a prolonged spike in bankruptcies. (First published in February 2021)

She said a teacher went to pick her up and yelled at her when he saw her. Her colleagues called her before releasing the 4-year-old to the teacher.

Sunley said the program’s handling of the situation was “shocking”.

“It was the school’s fault and they know it.”

She was still “smoking” the night of the incident, she said.

“I slept with her all night because I was so grateful that the community united.”

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