John Butler Primary College red faced after six year-old with autism leaves school, walks 1km before being found

Peta Rasdien

An incident during which a six year-old autistic boy left school and walked a kilometre away before he was found by a community member has left his parents distressed and demanding answers.

John Butler Primary College principal Brett Lewis said there was no excuse for the ‘deeply regrettable’ incident.

Dennis Moody was part of a class of six students with high needs and was being looked after by five staff members when he slipped away. Dennis, who has high-end autism, is almost completely non-verbal and has no sense of danger, was found in a Masters carpark by a young woman who rang the school asking if they were missing a child.

At 84 years old, Derek Rutherford is the oldest employee in the State education system, as gardener at North Beach Primary School.

Mr Lewis said Dennis was missing for about 15 minutes.

The boy’s mother Louise Lawrence, who spoke about her concerns on ABC radio’s morning show, has kept Dennis home since the August 25 incident.

She said he was a known ‘escape artist’ and the school was meant to care for him and his classmates in a special high security area.

However, on the day Dennis slipped away, staff had taken the students on an incursion to visit the school’s kindy play area. From there he was able to enter an unattended kindy classroom and exit through a door that led outside the school.

Ms Lawrence said she was upset that the school only contacted her nearly an hour after he first went missing and that protocols were not followed. She is also disappointed with communication from the school since the incident.

She said anything could have happened while he was on his own, including wandering onto a nearby dual lane road.

“You think of the extreme situations that could have happened,” she said.

Ms Lawrence said she would keep Dennis home until the school addressed her concerns about protocols and security.

“I am very sorry that this has happened – there is no excuse, and I apologise to both the student and his mother,” Mr Lewis said.

“As soon as I was made aware of the incident on the day I called the student’s mother straight away.

“I have absolutely tightened up the way we do things since – and briefed all of my staff. This includes regularly checking that external doors and fences are locked; and head counts of students and better communication.”

Mr Lewis said he would like to meet with Ms Lawrence to discuss her concerns and reassure her about the new procedures. He was hoping Dennis could return to school as soon as possible.