When 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo ran out the door from his New York City school, only to be found dead months later, it sent chills through parents everywhere, especially parents of special needs kids, who often don't have the skills to ask for help or navigate themselves back to safety. So imagine one mother's terror when her 5-year-old disabled son, Malachi, slipped out of his charter school in Brooklyn. "I started crying and thinking about Avonte," mom Sharon DeVore-Nelson told the New York Daily News. Malachi is not only way too young to be by himself on the city streets, but he has cerebral palsy, which makes him drag his foot. His mom was absolutely beside herself with worry, as any parent would be.
Malachi usually waits in his classroom for a bus matron, but for some reason that day a teacher reportedly told the boy to go look for her. He apparently went downstairs, pushed open a door, and not seeing the matron, stepped outside, where the door promptly locked behind him. He began crying.
Meanwhile, his mom got the call that Malachi was missing from the school, and she "began going crazy" and wondering if her son would end up like Avonte, who was found on a Queens shoreline.
It must be terrifying for parents with special needs kids -- or, hell, any kid for that matter -- to send their offspring to school and not know for sure if they will make it home. Obviously, there should be better ways of monitoring kids in school. Many schools, including the ones here in New York City, are overcrowded, underpaid, and understaffed. But there is no excuse for what happened.
You have to wonder why the teacher would have told the little boy to go find the bus matron, if indeed that is what happened. The parents are suing the city for $5 million. (Avonte's parents are suing for $25 million.)
Malachi, however, was luckier than the tragic Avonte. A Good Samaritan saw him and asked why he was crying. The little boy said he wanted to go home, and while the boy couldn't tell the "dreadlocked" man where he lived, he could point the way. Reportedly, the man walked with him until the boy pointed out his home, and then the man rang a neighbor's buzzer and left the kid there. It's unclear whether the man knew the boy was safe before he left -- but either way, at least he did that much. Odd he didn't call the police, but maybe he was a teen and just didn't think about it.
As for the mom, she never got to meet the man who may have saved her son's life, but she told the New York Daily News: "Whoever you are, I want to say, 'Thank you.'"
We can't, however, rely on Good Samaritans. There are people out there who are not so good.
How can we keep kids safer in schools?