PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Every parent wants to know their child is safe at school. A frightening incident involving a student in Northeast Philadelphia is leading to a major change in School District of Philadelphia policy.
Every aspect of Kathy Connolly’s home is designed to keep her two twin daughters safe.
Olivia and Samantha were diagnosed with autism when they were about 2-and-a-half years old.
“I said, ‘How would you say they rate as far as severity,’ thinking they would say, ‘Oh, so mild you’ll barely notice.’ That’s what I thought I was gonna hear and she said ‘severe,'” Connolly said.
The girls are now 13 but five years ago, they were enrolled at the School District of Philadelphia’s Lawton Elementary School.
Olivia and Samantha were supposed to have one-on-one aides throughout the entire school day, but budget cuts meant those assistants left early on March 7, 2014.
“Later that day, the kids had a trip to Chuck E. Cheese,” Connolly said.
But on their return trip, Olivia slipped away. She crossed busy Torresdale Avenue and, fortunately, was found unharmed, partially naked in a nearby field after removing her wet clothing.
Connolly says it was a miracle her daughter wasn’t killed.
“A child like Olivia, who is hyperactive, could have run for hours, could have reached [the Delaware River] within 30 minutes and then we would be reading about her,” Connolly said.
Connolly sued the district and part of that settlement allowed her to build a sensory room.
Her children are also now in a private school designed for those with autism. But her attorneys used Connolly’s case to permanently change policy at the district.
“If they determine the child needs assistance that begins a time clock of 10 days,” she said.
And within that time frame, a one-on-one aide must be assigned and can’t be removed because of budget concerns.
“For it to not only end with my daughter being physically unharmed but then other special needs children to be positively impacted, I’m pretty happy about that,” Connolly said.
In a statement, a spokesperson for the School District of Philadelphia writes: “School teams are now empowered to make decisions regarding services and supports for students at an Individualized Educational Plan meeting … The Office of Specialized Services has created protocols and procedures to ensure students receive the services they need to be successful, including an adult when required on an IEP.”