BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) — A concerned mother is demanding answers after her son, who has autism and does not communicate verbally, was able to walk off the campus of Martin Luther King Elementary School in Bakersfield.
Jessica Bejarano is the mother of 8-year-old Fenix.
“They took something from me that I could never get back ever, and that is trust. I trusted these people with his life and they failed.”
Bejarano says she rushed to the school after receiving a call that her son had been able to walk away from school property unaccompanied.
“I pulled up to the school coming from that direction over there and I found my son in the middle of the basketball courts right there with his head down and he was scared, and they were hovering over him,” describes Bejarano.
The park with the basketball courts Fenix had made his way to is right next to the school, but Bejarano’s concern is that her son was able to walk off campus at all. Fenix is supposed to have an aide beside him at all times due to his disability.
Bejarano says by the time she arrived, the school’s principal, an aide, and a campus supervisor were there with Fenix, who was visibly upset. After pushing the school to answer her questions, they showed her the surveillance video of her son leaving the school premises, although they refused to give either her or 23ABC a copy.
“The video showed him just pus the gate open,” said Bejarano. “No one is around, not one person, and he just walks all the way out to that gate, all the way to where the buses come out, and that is when someone realized he was gone.”
But the biggest shock was that it didn’t even appear to be the first time it had happened that day. Through Facebook posts, Bejarano came into contact with two other mothers of students at MLK who shared that they had found Fenix outside the school about 10 minutes before the incident the school called Bejarano about.
Maricela Curiel and Monette Barajas say they were picking up their kids, who also attend special education classes, from the school when they saw Fenix leave and notified the school. They say they found him before he had walked out of the parking lot gates, and that’s where an aide came to pick Fenix up.
“We see him pull up to the gate and then open it and we say ‘What is he going to do?’” said Curiel. “And as soon as he gets out we get out of the car and she tries to talk to him.”
Later in the day, Curiel and Barajas say they saw Bejarano’s post about Fenix on Facebook about the second incident, and after talking to her, realized Bejarano had not been told about the first incident.
“So finally when we talked to her, come to find out she didn’t now about the incident we had seen and we didn’t know about the incident she had seen,” said Barajas.
Both Barajas and Curiel have children in the special ed program. They say they put them into that school for the safety aspect, but they’re uneasy after what happened with Fenix.
“They need to do something about the doors,” Barajas said, “because you can’t get in, but you can get out.”
Bejarano is now questioning how many other times this may have happened. She is looking into transferring all her children to another school.
“They left my child unsupervised both times and didn’t notify me of the first time, so anything could have happened,” Bejarano said.
Bejarano has filed complaints and has had two meetings with school staff, but she says she wants to see more done for the sake of all the students.
“You trust these people with your kid’s life, basically,” said Bejarano. “If that had been me, and that happened when he was with me, I would be in so much trouble and he would be taken away from me, and they get away with a slap on the wrist.”
In addition to refusing to release the surveillance footage, school officials also declined to answer questions about the procedure for dealing with incidents like this or whether it has happened before with Fenix or any other students, saying they could not share any information on student inquiries.