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Autism advocates demand investigation after child goes missing from Durham school

Autism advocates are calling for an investigation and funding boost from the Ford government after a young boy went missing from his classroom in Durham Region for more than half an hour in January.

Neelam Rasheid said her seven-year-old son, Zak, eloped from his school on Jan. 9, information she said she was shocked to receive in an email from the school principal.

On the day he went missing, Rasheid was told her son had been missing for just three to four minutes before he was found by a neighbour.

That, however, wasn’t true, Rasheid said.

She said when she spoke to the neighbour who had found Zak, collected doorbell footage and looked at the details, she realized her son had been missing for “at least” 35 minutes.

The day Zak eloped was a rare day of freezing temperatures, Rasheid added.

“My son was found running back and forth on the road, with vehicles having to slow down to avoid hitting him,” Rasheid said.

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“The (neighbour) indicated she found Zak shivering as he was drenched from head to toe and they wrapped him in blanks.”

Rasheid said that, when she met with the school principal, she was misled about how long her son was missing and that other details, including why police weren’t called to trigger a search, didn’t add up.

“I’m a very private person,” she said. “But I’m choosing to speak up today with the hope that my voice will be heard.”

A spokesperson for Durham District School Board said Zak “temporarily moved away from his support” on the day he left the school.

“Due to the urgency of the situation, our immediate focus was on ensuring the student’s safety,” they said in a statement to Global News.

“We appreciate the support of the community in helping to locate the student and are grateful the student is safe. We regret the situation and are committed to reviewing and reinforcing our safety protocol to prevent future occurrences.”

The spokesperson did not address questions about the inconsistencies in the story Rasheid said she was told by administrators.

Advocates with the Ontario Autism Coalition say the story shows a lack of school funding and support from the provincial government is putting children at risk.

Tony Stravato, VP of operations for the group, said he didn’t believe the individual education workers helping children with autism are to blame when things go wrong.

“The government and the school boards are creating a perfect storm which could lead to a child being seriously hurt or even killed due to a lack of resources,” he said.

“The cuts to special education must stop before it’s too late.”

The group is also calling on Education Minister Stephen Lecce to launch an investigation into the incident.

“What happened to Zak Rasheid is unacceptable and should have never occurred, ” a spokesperson for Lecce said.

“I have asked the board to provide a full account of the incident, and to develop a plan to ensure this never happens to any student again.”

&copy 2024 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.


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