On Thursday March 8, 14 year old Trevyan Rowe walked away from his school bus at James P.B. Duffy School 12 on South Avenue and eventually drowned in the Genesee River. His family did not even know he was missing until that evening. 911 calls reporting a person on the Frederick Douglass Susan B. Anthony Bridge were not handled properly, so the fire department was never dispatched. These stark facts have thrown our neighborhood and particularly the school 12 community into turmoil.
My kids attended School 12. I live practically across the street from School 12. My daughter knew Trevyan. They are the same age. This tragedy hit hard.
When I first saw all the police cars outside of School 12, I thought “Oh no, I hope there wasn’t an incident.” Then I learned of a missing child and efforts to search for him. It was amazing to see this community pull together to search for this missing child. People from all over joined the search. Many were neighbors and School 12 alumni and families. We all checked our sheds and tree house. Autism Up did an incredible job coordinating things. It seemed wherever I went that weekend, somebody appeared with a flyer, asking us to look for Trevyan. People of all races and backgrounds came together to search for this child.
I was at a meeting of RCSD parents and advocates Sunday night when we got the word that a body had been found in the river. We were all devastated.
Meanwhile anger was building. How could a child just walk away from their bus? Why wasn’t the family notified that he was absent that Thursday? Were the police taking the search for a missing black boy as seriously as they would a white kid? What’s wrong with that school? Does anybody in that school even care about special needs kids? I shared that anger, but it also felt like a dagger to my heart. The School #12 that I know is a good place with caring teachers. I knew that the school was going through a heart breaking tragedy. Was it necessary to point the finger of blame? All of the staff and parents are mourning and processing this terrible tragedy. They need support as they strive to support the students who are also dealing with the loss of their classmate.
Yet accountability is important. As more facts come out, it is clear that, as Mayor Warren said, “Adult failures led to Trevyan’s death.” Someone should have noticed him walking away. His family should have been notified that he was not at school. The fire department should have been dispatched to the bridge. It is important to hold both the individuals and the system accountable. It can be satisfying to see someone fired, but will it solve the problem?
About 17 buses drop off students at School 12 each day. There are five adults out there greeting and watching kids, how could they be positioned to better prevent students wandering off? The Special Education system in the RCSD is failing many children. This must be fixed! The attendance system is often inaccurate. I know I’ve been notified that my children are absent, when they are on a field trip or at a lesson. There has to be a better way.
As a community we must come together and demand real solutions to the problems that led to the death of this young man. Not just attendance clerks, more security and the firing of a few people, but systemic fixes. We need schools where authentic relationships among staff, students and parents form the backbone of a vibrant education system.
So how can you help? If you see someone in a School 12 shirt, let them know you care. Consider volunteering at School 12. Contact the School 12 PTA at school12pta@gmail. com. Reading buddies, classroom volunteers, and lunchtime volunteers are all needed. Consider sending your own children to city schools. When we are invested and truly a part of the community, real change is possible.
If we can continue that spirit of cooperation and urgency that marked the search for Trevyan, if we can harness the anger about the adult failures that led to his death, perhaps we can make real change. Nothing will make up for the loss of this child, but perhaps we can prevent future loss and fix a broken system.