NPR Philadelphia affiliate reports on Popper & Yatvin special education case

How this mom turned near-tragedy into a win for Philly’s most vulnerable kids

Kathleen Connolly’s autistic daughter Olivia fled her elementary school without supervision in 2014. Olivia was found safe that day, but her mother used the potential tragedy to fight for systemic changes to special-ed in Philadelphia (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)
Kathleen Connolly’s autistic daughter Olivia fled her elementary school without supervision in 2014. Olivia was found safe that day, but her mother used the potential tragedy to fight for systemic changes to special-ed in Philadelphia (Avi Wolfman-Arent/WHYY)

Kathleen Connolly tries not to think about March 7, 2014. But when she does, her mind drifts to Torresdale Avenue.

“I think about what happened there — what happened at Torresdale,” she said in a recent interview. “Only the drivers and Livvy know.”

Connolly’s daughter, Olivia, was eight years old on that chilly March afternoon. Some time around 1:30 p.m., Olivia — who has a form of autism that severely limits her ability to communicate or reason — bolted out the doors of Lawton Elementary.

The special education aide assigned to watch Olivia was only scheduled to work a half-day on March 7. It’s still unclear why. Connolly and her lawyers believe the School District of Philadelphia had been slashing hours for aides to save money during lean budget years.

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© WHYY 2019

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