As the search for a non-verbal 14-year-old extends beyond New York City, there are still a lot of questions about how Avonte Oquendo’s school lost him in the first place.
We spoke to David Perecman, a New York City lawyer who represents the autistic boy’s mother in a legal action that’s trying to get answers about how Oquendo managed to slip out of his Long Island City, Queens school on Oct. 4.
That school, the Riverview School, specialises in special education for kids like Oquendo.
“Children like this do not go to school without a plan,” Perecman said, referring to the Individualized Education Programs (IEPs) mandated by the Individuals with Disabilities Act.
IEPs have information about each kid’s specific needs. Oquendo’s IEP specifically said that he wandered away during transitions, according to Perecman. Somehow the boy disappeared while walking with his class from lunch back to his classroom — a transition period where educators should be paying extra attention.
“They knew that he runs away during transitions, yet he managed to get off that line,” Perecman said.
Perecman has never heard of another case of a New York City school losing a special-needs student.
“People lose their keys. People lose their wallet. Losing a child?” he said.
New York’s schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott has said Oquendo’s disappearance has prompted a review of emergency-response protocol, The New York Times reported.
The search for Oquendo has been massive since his disappearance five weeks ago. The city has been blanketed with posters with Oquendo’s picture. The MTA has even made announcements on trains asking passengers to look for the boy, describing what he was wearing and when he was last seen. The NYPD has sent out search helicopters and interviewed people on the sex-offender registry.
His father, Daniel Oquendo, has taken leave from his job in Florida to look for Avonte, WNYC reported this week. He stays in a small heated trailer outside his son’s school, handing out flashlights and maps of Long Island City to volunteers. The elder Oquendo has declined offers from hotels to lodge for free.
“I’m not going to lay up comfortably knowing he could be out there in the streets,” Daniel Oquendo told WNYC.
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