As police continue to search for a 14-year-old boy with autism who has been missing since Friday, some parents of children with special needs question how the vulnerable student could have left his school unattended.
Avonte Oquendo was seen on surveillance walking out of the Riverview School in Long Island City (also reported as the Center Boulevard School) between 12:30 p.m. and 1 p.m. He is not able to speak.
Gloria Corsino is president of the parents council for students in District 75, which is for children with the most serious special needs. She has two teenage sons with autism and said news of the missing boy is "devastating." Her own 13-year-old son is nonverbal and attends P.S. 723 in the Bronx; her 14-year-old, who she describes as "minimally verbal," attends P.S. 811 in the Bronx.
Because of their disabilities, Corsino said they each have crisis paraprofessionals, or school aides, who are supposed to help them all day. Oquendo's mother has told media outlets her son had a paraprofessional. Corsino wondered how the boy could have wandered away.
"An investigation should be done," she said, adding "somewhere along the line someone might have missed a cue."
The Department of Education will not comment on the matter, saying only that it is under police investigation.
Corsino said children with disabilities are not supposed to leave the school before the end of the day unless they are signed out and accompanied by a parent, family member or other authorized adult. She said the District 75 parents council will draft a resolution calling for the Department of Education to explain what happened.
She said children with autism need to be closely watched because they aren't aware of danger.
"A lot of children who have autism tend to be very, very hyper and will run off because that's the nature of who they are."
Anyone who may have seen the boy is asked to call the NYPD Crime Stoppers at 800 577-8477.