EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 8, 2010

Mother of special needs student wants more security at school

LAWRENCE — The mother of a special needs student, who was found walking toward Interstate 495 before school officials knew he was missing, is upset the school does not have enough security.

"I'm not only mad at the school," said Claribel Pena, mother of 8-year-old Isaac Rivera. "It's the school and the city's responsibility to keep children safe. All I want is change so it doesn't happen to someone else."

Pena, 30, said she got the scare of her life Tuesday when officials from the Edward F. Parthum School called to ask if she had picked up Isaac. Officials could not find the second-grader in the building when the bus came to pick him up.

"I went crazy, started crying and fled to school," said Pena, also the mother of Dylan, 4. "All the while, I was trying to figure out what to do."

Yesterday, Pena met with interim School Superintendent Mary Lou Bergeron, Parthum School Principal Sharma Sullivan, and special needs teachers.

"Safety is the responsibility of every person in the school. Our goal is to put in measures to protect everybody," Bergeron said.

Isaac has chromosome 11-Q, a rare disease which causes mild to severe retardation, speech and language problems, and affects the heart and kidneys.

"I thought, 'Oh, my God, did someone take him and harm him?'"

Security cameras at the school showed Isaac walked out of the East Haverhill Street side door before 2 p.m. He was missing for about a half-hour before school officials realized it, and police were officially notified about 3 p.m.

After leaving the building, Isaac headed toward Commonwealth Avenue, which leads to Interstate 495.

Police said a woman driving a Kia minivan picked him up, but instead of taking him back to school, a hospital or the police station, she dropped Isaac off at a fast-food restaurant on Route 114.

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