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New London district investigates misplaced child at elementary school

New London — For Jessica Reyes of New London, it was the kind of panic that comes with the realization that your 5-year-old child is missing.

The story ends with her finding her kindergartner safe at school but marked absent and apparently unnoticed in a second grade class for four hours.

But Reyes was in tears at times Wednesday of last week, a chaotic afternoon that started when she called Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School to notify staff she would be picking up her son early that day. It was shortly before noon when she called. School officials told her they did not have a record of her son being at school that day.

Reyes was incredulous, since it was only hours earlier, about 8:30 a.m., that she had dropped young Ezra off for his second day at the school. She had watched him go into the front entrance.

Her husband, Angel Reyes, received her frantic text message. “She’s like, ‘Oh my God. I’m about to call police. They said he’s not here.'”

He sped back from Derby to meet his wife at the school.

Jessica Reyes arrived at the school and spoke to staff shortly after noon but was not allowed in to look for her son. She said she was told it was because of COVID-19 restrictions. She called police, who responded with several officers and a K-9 team.

“They would not let me inside to let me search. The school went into lockdown,” Jessica Reyes said. “They left me outside not knowing what to do.”

Additionally, she said she was asked by police if she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, something they told her was just procedural.

Meanwhile, police and staff were reviewing video footage from inside the school in an attempt to track her son’s movements. They eventually let Jessica Reyes in to help identify her son on the footage. Sure enough, she said, Ezra can be seen entering the school where she said there was no staff to guide him. Ezra wanders around and ends up following another student into a second grade classroom. It’s the same classroom where he was found safe about 1:09 p.m.

How he was not noticed and why the boy's parents were not notified of his absence is expected to be part of an ongoing internal school investigation. The district has not answered questions posed by The Day about whether kindergartners wear name tags and procedures for students entering the school.

“The first question I asked was, 'Are you understaffed?'” Angel Reyes said. “They said, ‘No.’ So, how do you lose track of a child like that? It’s kind of scary.”

Jessica Reyes said she verbally complained to the district and has permanently pulled her son from the school in favor of the Friendship School in Waterford. She said she received an apology from New London Superintendent Cynthia Ritchie but was also told her son never came forward to say who he was because he was too scared.

The Reyeses said they were told the second grade teacher marked him down as another student’s name. Jessica Reyes said the fact the school is basically saying her son impersonated another student is another point of contention for her.

“I made a public post on Facebook because I want people to know," she said. "They need to have better safety protocols at the school. I want them to know they have to be accountable for what happened. What if my son left the school? Would they notice?”

Jessica Reyes describes her son as smart, energetic and a happy kid who always has a smile on his face and has a strong bond with his three siblings.

“He didn’t actually know what was going on that day,” she said. “He’s too young to understand that he was in the wrong class. He did tell me that they had story time and that he told his teacher he cannot read, which he can’t and she should have realized something at least by then because my second grade kids can read.”

The school is run by Principal Laurelle Texidor, who has worked in the district for nearly three decades, served as principal at two of the district’s other elementary schools and until last year was the director at the New London High School campus. She was not immediately available for comment on Thursday.

School board President Regina Mosley said she found out about the incident through Facebook but no specifics from the school district. She said “as a parent and as a human being,” she shares the concerns of the family.

“It’s definitely something that should never happen again,” Mosley said.

School board Vice President Jefferey Hart said he knows how terrifying it is not to know where your child is, having experienced a bus issue with one of his own children in the past.

He didn’t fault the parents for calling police in this instance. He said that despite restrictions on visitors entering the schools, he is unaware of a districtwide policy that would bar a mother from entering the school.

“Obviously there is an investigation focused on our staff, what they did and whether it was aligned with our policies,” Hart said. “We do expect that every student is accounted for at attendance every morning at every grade level at every school. We eagerly await the results of the investigation.”

Mayor Michael Passero said he was notified about the incident but thus far has gotten few answers from the district. He said he was informed by Ritchie the matter was being taken seriously.

The incident came during the same week that a Nathan Hale family reportedly showed up at the school to pick up their child only to find the student had been placed on a bus.

g.smith@theday.com

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