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Mom: Autistic Boy's Wandering Met With Punishment From School Despite Federal Law

HUNTINGTON STATION, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) - The mother of a Long Island boy with autism is livid after she says her son's school mishandled a frightening incident during which he disappeared from the school.

The case is prompting calls for renewed awareness to protect children with autism, reports CBS2's Carolyn Gusoff.

The incident started after a 8th grade middle schooler named Michael wandered unnoticed from a school in Elwood in Suffolk County.

The 14-year-old student, who has been diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, was missing for an hour. School staff didn't notice he left, and then after he was located, he walked home and his mother brought him back to school.

Instead of disciplining staff, school officials disciplined the boy by suspending him for five days - excluding him from graduation rehearsal, signing yearbooks with classmates and a school picnic.

"It scared me," said Michael's mother. "It scared me that they didn't know where my son was."

Michael's parents are citing Avonte's Law, a federal law was passed to educate schools and caregivers on how to handle the propensity of people with autism to wander.

The law is named after two boys with autism who died after wandering from safety. In New York, Avonte Oquendo, 14, slipped out of his Queens school in October 2013 and was later found dead.

"Actually it's outrageous," said Michael's mother. "That the school has actually said is that this poor boy who ended up in the East River two years ago didn't matter - that when the federal government decided to legislate on that boy's behalf, it didn't matter - because we're still looking at children with autism as they have a behavior problem."

"It's a known issue with autism," said the boy's father. "They did not have the people trained, they did not have the systems in place to keep track of our children."

"The administration are not not trained in the nuances of autism as they should be," said therapist Jennifer Bohr-Cuevas.

Michael's family calls the punishment cruel and isolating. Michaels say he was told he could attend the picnic if he apologized for wandering off, but his parents says say that amounts to aksing him to apologize for having autism.

This incident happened last week. The district would not comment due to confidentially rules, but in a statement said it is reviewing systems and protocols in and around our school facilities.

"Please know that the safety, health and welfare of every student, faculty and staff member is of paramount importance," said Superintendent of Schools Kenneth R. Bossert. "The administration and our security team will continue to review all systems and protocols in and around our school facilities."

Michael's mother is an attorney, but says at this point they are not suing, focusing instead on speaking out to spread awareness.

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