A family is trying to find out exactly what happened at their son’s school leading up to the moment he wandered away from the school grounds unnoticed and began to make his way home.
The boy in question, 7-year-old Landon Refior, has autism and is not supposed to be left unattended. His family says “it took a lot of failures” on the part of the summer school staff and teachers for the boy to have gone missing and for no one to have noticed.
It was Landon’s first day of summer school at a new school. He was supposed to have boarded the bus home after class, but he never did. Instead, he walked all the way home by memory in 90-degree heat without shoes.
It wasn’t until he didn’t get off the bus at his stop that his mother, Rachel Fisher, knew something was wrong. She frantically called the boy’s dad, Mike Refior, who ran out the front door to look for Landon. He arrived just in time to see Landon walking down the middle of the street.
“Just dragging his backpack barefoot. I’ll never forget it. I mean, yeah, I’ll never forget that image,” says Mike.
The family believes Landon may have been motivated to walk home because he’d been promised a special snack when he arrived home from his first day of school.
Luckily, Landon made it home okay, but things could have gone much worse. The family says it was a one-in-a-million chance that their son got home without being harmed, because he doesn’t understand traffic safety and had to cross several busy intersections. During his two-mile walk home, eight people called 911 to report him.
“He had to cross ‘Q’ street, he had to cross Millard Avenue, he had to cross 144th Street,” Mike says.
The family is happy their son made it home alive and well, but they say the school should have done more to ensure the boy’s safety. They also have yet to find Landon’s shoes.
“It took a lot of failures for this to happen,” says Mike. “I think that’s the most frustrating thing, the checks and balances they had in place. I mean so many people had to fail for this to happen.”
The family says their son was checked off as having gotten on his bus. When the school and bus company learned that he actually hadn’t been on the bus at all, they pointed fingers at each other.
In a statement, Millard Public Schools said, “First and foremost, we are grateful that the student is safe. Yesterday, on the first day of summer school, a Millard student was in line to get on the bus to go home. He did not get on the bus and walked away from the school. He then walked home. We are working with the family to ensure the student’s safety and reviewing our procedures to ensure the safety of all students.”
But the family is disappointed in the school’s failures. “We took pride in Millard Public Schools,” says Mike. “We moved from Kearney to Omaha for therapy, for schooling, I mean this is a bad day for Millard Public Schools.”
The family says the district has now provided a one-on-one para-educator for Landon and are planning to have someone ride the bus home with him. These are welcome changes, but they may be too little, too late.
“They put in place a 1:1 para, which is something we’ve always pushed for, for Landon, and always got push back, always not enough funding,” says Mike. “Neither one of us is comfortable with taking him back to school, honestly. I mean that might have been the first and last day of summer school for Landon.”
The couple is now encouraging other families with children with autism to push hard for what their child needs. They also hope their story will convince schools to listen more to parents’ wishes.
The couple wishes to thank all the people who called 911 on the boy and followed him as he walked home, as he was clearly not safe to be by himself.Whizzco