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Thursday, February 21, 2008

Parks department changes procedures after boy left behind on city outing

By Maria Garriga
Register Staff
NEW HAVEN
— A day after a 7-year-old boy was left behind during a city-sponsored outing to the Woodbury Ski Area, the city Department of Parks, Recreation and Trees tightened policies to ensure it does not happen again.
New policy for city-sponsored trips for children will require eyeball confirmation by chaperones that each child is on the bus home, both while the children get on the bus and again once the bus doors close, Parks Director Robert Levine said Wednesday.
“This is unacceptable on so many levels,” Levine said of the Tuesday incident.
Levine said staffers had conducted a head count, but missed the boy because the head count changed when another child left early, which created confusion.
Top city officials said they were stunned at the gaffe.
“Something went wrong. I expect discipline will follow,” said Robert Smuts, the city’s chief administrative officer.
The boy, Antonio Canuelas, had been on a snow-tubing trip Tuesday as part of weeklong day camp offered by the city to keep children occupied during February school vacation.
The group left for the ski area at 8:30 a.m. and headed back at noon without Antonio. His mother, Amanda Canuelas of New Haven, discovered that her son was missing after the bus arrived. The frightened boy was reunited with his anguished mother five hours later.
Canuelas said Antonio told her he rode a snow tube downhill and saw no one at the bottom of the hill. He returned to the top of the hill and didn’t see anyone there.
“He told me he didn’t know where the office was so he just sat on the snow tube crying.”
An unknown adult brought the boy to the office, she said, where Antonio was given a hot dog, curly fries and a Pepsi.
“He hadn’t eaten. The counselors brought back his lunch box but not him,” Canuelas said.
“I would not send my kid back there. They lost my trust,” she said. “He’s still very emotional about it.”
The incident sparked uproar in the Parks department.
Levine held meetings from 10 p.m. Tuesday, at 7 a.m. Wednesday and throughout the afternoon to get to the bottom of the incident. Levine could recall no other child having been left behind during any department outing.
On Tuesday’s trip to Woodbury, seven Parks employees, including a supervisor, accompanied 38 children, Levine said. According to Levine, the adults divided the children in six groups for easier supervision. They traveled to Woodbury by school bus but took along a van in case any child needed to go back early.
One child fell ill and two employees left in the van to bring the child back. When remaining employees conducted a head count on the bus before departure, they became confused about the number of children on the bus. They assumed the missing child had been the one that fell ill.
The department will now require a roll call instead of a head count. In addition, employees must make eye contact with each child during the roll call to ensure they are present. Employees will conduct the roll as children board the bus and again after the bus doors close.
Levine said children had not been paired into buddies during the trip. He said the “buddy system” will now be standard procedure on all trips as an additional safeguard.
Maria Garriga can be reached at mgarriga@nhregister.com or 789-5726.

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