A mother is demanding action from a Toronto school after her four-year-old son with autism left his classroom and wandered to an outside yard where he was eventually found all alone.
Carla Godinho told CTV Toronto that she dropped off her son Jacob for his first day of junior kindergarten at Saint Nicholas of Bari Separate School at approximately 9 a.m. on Tuesday. Because Jacob is non-verbal, Godinho said she made sure he was in the care of a designated early childhood educator before she left.
Later that morning, Godinho returned to the school to fill out some remaining paperwork.
“As I was approaching the school I heard a child crying in the kindergarten playground and when I got closer I noticed it was Jacob,” she said. “He was running around frantically crying out and there was nobody around – there were no adults around.”
A door leading back into the school was closed, but the gate separating the yard from the street was wide open, according to Godinho.
“He didn’t notice that the gate was open,” she said. “That’s the only reason that he didn’t run onto the street.”
The distraught mother said she immediately ran over to her son who cried out for her to pick him up.
“There’s no words. I was distraught. I just wanted to get to him,” she said. “There’s no words to describe it.”
It’s unclear how long Jacob was unattended in the school yard, but Godinho said even five minutes would have been too long.
She said she was told by the principal that every door leading from the classrooms to the playground area has an alarm on it. The alarm was not properly in place on the door her son went through, which is why he was able to leave unnoticed, Godinho said.
“They didn’t take a lot of accountability for it. They kind of brushed it off and asked me to take him back to his classroom to his teacher,” she recounted.
A spokesperson for the Toronto Catholic District School Board, John Yan, acknowledged that a child with autism had been able to open a door leading to the school yard on Tuesday. The teacher and childhood educator were already aware of his absence from class and were on their way to search for him when he was noticed in the gated outside area, Yan said in the emailed statement.
“A further meeting is scheduled at the school with the parent tomorrow, so that both the teacher and support staff have additional information and awareness of any other special needs,” the statement read.
Godinho said she’s concerned a similar incident could happen again. She said she wants the school to fix the classroom door alarm, perform daily security checks and provide a support person for every child with special needs.
“To have this happen at all is unbelievable, but to have it happen to a child that is non-verbal is that much worse,” she said.
With files from CTV Toronto