Written by Steve Mosco Wednesday, 11 September 2013 00:00
The parents of a severely autistic Plainedge Middle School student are pushing for safety reform after the boy managed to walk out of school undetected, setting off a frantic search in the surrounding neighborhood last week.
“We went over the safety gaps and talked about adding buzzers to the door that would go off when opened, adding a door monitor and more security cameras,” said Anthony Parisi, whose son Paul, 10, slipped out of his special needs classroom Sept. 4 and was found 45 minutes later in a neighboring backyard. “More can always be done to protect our kids, but my life and I left the meeting satisfied.”
Anthony and Marie Parisi received a call on that Wednesday all parents of disabled children fear; Paul was nowhere to be found.
Parisi had taken off from work that day to assist his wife in preparing their son, and his fellow triplets Anthony and Michelle, who were all celebrating their 10th birthday, for their first day of school. After getting the phone call, Parisi was at the school within minutes.
“When I got there, there were no police on the scene,” he said, adding that he yelled at someone to call 911. “All I could feel was fear. Extreme fear. My wife has had anxiety ever since.”
Parisi said he is not sure when the police were called or who called them, but they arrived on the scene in short order.
The 41-year-old said his son Paul, as well as Paul’s brother Anthony, both suffer from extreme cases of autism. The young boy only speaks a few words and his father said he could have ended up in a number of dangerous situations.
“He could have been hit by a car, someone could have picked him up. I told the police that if there’s a pool nearby, we could have trouble,” he said. “It was a huge relief when we found him.”
Paulie, as his father calls him, was found by a school staff member and brought back to
the school in a police car. Parisi said he grabbed his son from the squad car in order to get him out
of the situation as quickly as possible.
“We was sweaty, worn out,” he said, adding that he kept repeating his favorite food, “French fry.” “I took him to Burger King.”
Police said no one was charged in the incident, and Plainedge School District superintendent Dr. Edward Salina Jr. the school will work with the parents to improve safety measures.
Parisi said this dangerous situation could have been avoided if the school staff was better trained to identify disabled children. He said he watched the school’s security footage and saw his son walk by a school staff member in the hallway before making his way out of the building.
From now on Paulie, and his brother, will both have one-on-one monitors with them at all times. But Parisi said staff members need better training otherwise the next time a child gets out it could come to a far more tragic end.
“The staff needs extra help and more training,” he said. “School officials should know when a child is a special needs child.”