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Harlem School Remains Closed As Health Department Investigates Death Of Preschooler

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- Parents at a Harlem school want to know what happened after the family of a preschooler said the little boy died from an allergic reaction to a sandwich he ate.

The 7th Avenue Center for Family Services remained closed Thursday.

The little boy's family says 3-year-old Elijah Silvera was given a grilled cheese sandwich by an adult at the pre-K despite them knowing and having documented that he has a severe allergy to dairy. They say Elijah went into anaphylactic shock and later died.

"If you see him, he's just a bright light," said the boy's relative, Ruben Porras. "He was one of those kids that when you walk in the room and saw him, you just light up."

As CBS2's Hazel Sanchez reported, the Administration for Chlidren's Services was in the hot seat Thursday over the pre-K tragedy.

"I don't know if it can be avoided, because we don't really know what happened," said Lorelei Vargas, deputy commissioner for early care and education for ACS, which oversees the center.

She said Silvera's deadly exposure to dairy was an isolated incident, but she did not know if the ACS early learning site had a protocol to protect or save children from a severe allergic reaction.

"The investigation will help us better understand whether or not everything that needs to be in place was in place and what happened," Vargas said.

The Department of Health is investigating and closed the school Wednesday night for failing to follow its written safety plan and failing to supervise Silvera, Sanchez reported. All New York schools are required by law to have a safety plan, should a student go into anaphylactic shocks, as family members said Silvera did.

"I think one of the misconceptions is that children with food allergies -- it's not that big of a deal. As someone who has a child with severe food allergies, it is a very scary thing," one mother said.

Earlier in the day, an unidentified man and woman were seen opening the gate, CBS2's Janelle Burrell reported.

"God bless the family," the man said. "No comment."

Parents like Emelyn Geronimo arrived later, intending to drop off her son only to find out Silvera's death when CBS2 told her.

"I'm very upset about that because I think we should all know," she said. "These are our kids' lives and we, as moms, we bring our kids here trusting so I'm very, very sad for the family."

NYPD detectives were also seen Thursday heading into the school on Lenox Avenue.

Damaris Lugo knew little Elijah and said it is difficult for her to explain to her son about what happened to his friend.

"I really don't even know how to explain it to a 3-year-old," she told WCBS 880's Sean Adams.

Lugo says she has never witnessed any neglect.

"When you first bring your kid here, they ask you, 'do you have allergies?' They let you know that they don't administer medication because there is no school nurse on hand," she said.

Elijah's family, along with the parents of his classmates and neighbors, are demanding an explanation.

"I think it's incompetence and I think they definitely should receive consequences because it's not right," said parent Ruth Harris.

"They should be shut down and whoever did that, whoever is in charge of this program should definitely face criminal charges, I think," she added.

In the meantime, parents are scrambling to find childcare. Friends are also raising money for a funeral and an independent autopsy.


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