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.
Meanwhile, Pena, along with her sister and other parents from school, went looking for the boy. The police had launched a full-scale investigation and even requested a helicopter from the state police.
He wandered around Plaza 114 on Winthrop Avenue, going into the T-Mobile store, where a employee called police shortly after 3 p.m. to report a child was there alone.
Once found, Pena went to the cell phone store to meet her son.
"When I saw him, I felt so good because he was in one piece," she said.
Pena said she appreciates the fact that the woman in the minivan picked up Isaac so he would not be in harm's way on the highway.
The woman later went to the police station to apologize for messing up and not notifying police about Isaac. The driver also called Pena and apologized for leaving him at the shopping plaza.
During school hours, Isaac walks with other students to and from classrooms to their homeroom.
A teacher waits for Isaac when he is dropped off in the morning and stays with him until the bus picks him up in the afternoon.
Parthum School, which has more than 1,000 students, has one safety officer in the elementary and another in the middle school.
Bergeron said the school will reinforce the safety protocol at the school. In addition to escorting special needs students to and from homeroom, the school also offers a Stranger Danger workshop to teach children about safety and to be wary of strangers.
Isaac said he did not remember seeing the police being at the fast-food place or at a cell phone store.
Pena is not surprised.
"He forgets things easily. I always tell him to be careful, not to talk to people he doesn't know, but it's hard for him to understand," she said. "He doesn't know when he's in danger and thinks everyone is his friend or family."
This was the second time Isaac has wandered from school.
The first time, he was dropped off at school, became disoriented and headed home. A guidance counselor saw him and brought him back to the building.
"I was more relieved then because he wasn't gone for long," she said.
Pena said she had a difficult pregnancy and knew Isaac was going to be born with a heart condition. Isaac was not diagnosed with the disorder, also known as Jacobsen's syndrome, until last month.
Chromosome 11-Q is caused by the loss of a small portion of a chromosome at conception and the child is born with a part of the 11th chromosome missing. The disorder affects 1 in every 100,000 births.
Isaac has big black eyes and black hair. At school, he likes going to the library, music and computer classes.
At home, he enjoys playing with cars, riding his bike, drawing, doing jigsaw puzzles and putting together patterns and lines.
"It's frustrating, but I don't want him to think that he's different from other children," Pena said.