New London – For New London’s Jessica Reyes, it was the kind of panic that comes with realizing her 5-year-old is missing.
The story ends with her finding her kindergarten child safe at school, but found absent and seemingly unnoticed in a second grade class for four hours.
But Reyes was at times in tears on Wednesday last week, a chaotic afternoon that began when she called the Nathan Hale Arts Magnet School to let staff know she was picking up her son early that day. It was just before noon when she called. School officials told her they had no record of her son being at school that day.
Reyes was incredulous as she had dropped young Ezra off for his second day at school just hours earlier, around 8:30am. She had watched him go through the front entrance.
Her husband, Angel Reyes, received her distressed text message. “She’s like, ‘Oh my God. I’ll call the police right away. They said he wasn’t here.’”
He raced back from Derby to meet his wife at school.
Jessica Reyes arrived at the school and spoke to staff just after noon, but was not allowed to look for her son. She said she was told it was because of COVID-19 restrictions. She called the police, who responded with several officers and a K-9 team.
“They didn’t let me in to search. The school went into lockdown,” Jessica Reyes said. “They left me outside and didn’t know what to do.”
She also said she was asked by police if she was under the influence of drugs or alcohol, which she was told was purely procedural.
Meanwhile, police and staff reviewed video footage from inside the school to track her son’s movements. They eventually let Jessica Reyes in to help identify her son on the footage. In fact, she said, Ezra can be seen entering the school, where she said there is no staff to guide him. Ezra wanders around and ends up following another student into a second grade classroom. It is the same classroom where he was found safe at around 1:09 p.m
How he was not noticed and why the boy’s parents were not informed of his absence is expected to be part of an ongoing internal school investigation. The district has not responded to questions posed by The Day about whether kindergarten children wear name tags and procedures for students entering the school.
“The first question I asked was, ‘Are you understaffed?'” said Angel Reyes. “They said, ‘No.’ So how do you lose sight of a child like that? It’s kind of scary.”
Jessica Reyes said she complained verbally to the district and had her son pulled permanently 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 wrote it down as another student’s name. Jessica Reyes said the fact that the school is basically saying her son was posing as 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 better safety protocols at the school. I want them to know that they are responsible for what happened. What if my son leaves school? Would you notice?”
Jessica Reyes describes her son as a bright, energetic and happy child 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 told me they had story time and he told his teacher he can’t read what he can’t and she should have realized at least by then because my kids can read in second grade.”
The school is led by Principal Laurelle Texidor, who has worked in the district for nearly three decades, has been principal at two other elementary schools in the district and was principal of the New London High School campus until last year. She was not immediately available for comment Thursday.
School Board President Regina Mosley said she learned about the incident via Facebook but no details from the school district. She said “as a parent and as a person” she shares the concerns of the family.
“This should definitely never happen again,” Mosley said.
School board vice president Jefferey Hart said he knows how frightening it is not knowing where your child is, having had a bus problem with one of his own children in the past.
He did not blame the parents for calling the police in this case. He said that despite the restrictions on visitors entering the schools, he was not aware of any countywide policy that would ban a mother from the school.
“Obviously there’s an investigation focused on our employees, what they’ve been doing and whether it’s in line with our policies,” Hart said. “We expect every student to be accounted for in attendance every morning at every grade level in every school. We eagerly await the results of the investigation.”
Mayor Michael Passero said he was briefed on the incident but has received few responses from the county so far. He said he was informed by Ritchie that the matter was being taken seriously.
The incident happened the same week when a family of Nathan Hale’s reportedly showed up at the school to pick up their child, only to find the student had been put on a bus.