Public schools in New York City keep losing kids. Why is this happening? Last year, there were 457 reports of children going missing from buildings on campus, on school buses on the way home, and field trips or other school-related locations. The children went briefly without supervision, leading to them being lost, according to a report from the Special Commissioner of Investigation for New York City schools. The number is twice what it was the year before. In 2014, there were 279 cases reported, according to Fox News.
There have been increases ever since May 2015, when Chancellor Carmen Farina was warned by the SCI chief Richard Condon. His report was the result of his reaction to the loss of a student. In October 2013, a 14-year-old autistic student, Avonte Oquendo, drowned. He reportedly ran out of his Queens school and wasn’t caught in time for adults to take action. For a time, it wasn’t known what happened to the boy after he left the school. Then, several months later, his body washed up on a beach.
It appears that some of the children who have gone missing are some of the youngest in the district. The children in pre-kindergarten are typically 3- and 4-years-old. Mayor De Blasio has vowed to expand the city’s pre-kindergarten program, leaving many to fear these vulnerable students are at an increased risk of going missing as well.
PS 154 in Queens had no cameras and there were no alarms on the doors, as SCI discovered after investigating the case of a pre-K boy who got away from school unattended. The incident occurred in July 2015, when Stephen Morganlander, a teacher, and Jennifer Vasquez, a substitute teacher, failed to supervise the young student as he ran from his gym class and away from the building, then walked to his home four blocks away.
Jennifer Vasquez was a special-ed aide who was assigned to provide one-on-one supervision for the little boy. She said she saw him run from the gym and followed, hoping to find him, but he was nowhere to be found. Stephen Morganlander, the child’s teacher, said he ran as far as three blocks looking for him. Fortunately, the boy was able to reach his home. A construction worker was busy working in the apartment building where the child lived and let him inside to go and ring his doorbell to find his mom.
As a result of the disturbing case of the autistic boy drowning after leaving the school, the city’s Department of Education says it installed over 21,000 door alarms in 1,200 school buildings last November to prevent children from escaping or wandering from the school buildings and campuses. The action was required by “Avonte’s Law,” which was passed by the City Council after the death of Avonte Oquendo.
Teacher Pamela Pollard-Mims and paraprofessional Nady Lodvil of Brooklyn’s PS 251 lost two of their pre-K little girls. They had been on a field trip to Brooklyn College to see a play, Harold and the Purple Crayon.
As the show ended, Lodvil told authorities she had counted the children and got all 15 of them. It was on the way toward the buses when she says she “lost sight” of some of the kids. While searching for them, she came across the girls who were with a college security officer. The girls had found him and said they asked the “policeman” for help finding their group.
Bronx’s PS 140 faced an equally upsetting experience. In April 2015, pre-K teacher Lisa Bannerman allowed a little boy to leave with a woman who came to her classroom at the school and said she was the grandmother of a student. The teacher inadvertently gave her the wrong student, a boy with a name that sounded similar to his. The boy she handed over “appeared to recognize” the woman.
The 70-year-old grandmother later returned the wrong boy to the school and told them “she did not realize” she had taken the wrong child until after she had gotten home.
In March 2015, a little preschool girl from PS 241 was left on a bus during a field trip at the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The bus dropped off the rest of the class at the museum, but the little girl had fallen asleep underneath a coat. As the students lined up to enter the museum, another child noticed that a “buddy” was missing. A chaperone ran back to find the bus but it was already gone. Officials finally reached the driver, who ended up finding the little girl inside the parked school bus. The staff who was supervising the kids that day have as yet been unidentified by the authorities involved.
The Department of Education said each of the employees involved in the New York SCI reports of missing students received letters of reprimand. Officials were unable to determine why PS 154 had lacked cameras and door alarms at the time of the incident on their campus. DOE spokeswoman Devora Kaye gave a statement to the New York Post.
“The safety and security of our students is our top priority, and we have procedures in place to ensure students are supervised appropriately.”
The file containing the report from SCI chief Richard Condon of his findings can be found on the official SCI website, which was filed in May 2015, proving he did indeed make authorities aware of the problem.
Richard Condon’s career is not without blemish, however. Chalkbeat NY reported that it had been investigating Condon for corruption and misconduct in various cases. They stated they were suspicious of complaints having been reported to Condon in which the investigation findings were never released. They’ve asked the public to report to them any cases they’re aware of involving Condon’s office and his failure to investigate.
Each of the cases will hopefully be fully investigated and reported, but when New York schools keep losing kids, we can’t help but ask why this is happening.
[Feature Image by Jozef Sowa/Shutterstock Images]