El Modena High School students led a walkout Thursday in the wake of news regarding the death of an autistic classmate from injuries he suffered in a campus golf cart crash.
The Orange Unified School District superintendent’s office released this statement about the walkout:
“We understand how difficult this week has been for many of our students. We sympathize with their frustration and sadness. Frankly, this anxiety is being fueled by unfounded rumors and misinformation on social media, and that is unfortunate. We continue to support our students, who are expressing grief in a variety of ways, and encourage them to meet with our on-campus grief counseling team. Our primary goal is to ensure the safety of all students at El Modena as we mourn the tragic loss of our student.”
The accident was under investigation by school officials and authorities, and a GoFundMe page set up for funeral expenses for the teenager has surpassed its goal of $5,000. As of late Thursday morning, $6,245 had been raised.
The student crashed in the golf cart on campus about 10 a.m. Monday, said Sgt. Phil McMullin of the Orange Police Department. The teen was taken to an area hospital, where he was pronounced dead that evening, according to school officials.
Orange Unified School District officials on Wednesday issued a statement saying, “No other students were involved in the accident. We were devastated to learn that he died from those injuries in the hospital. A letter was sent to families of El Modena High School alerting them to this heartbreaking incident. We take student safety very seriously and maintain appropriate supervision when students are on campus. At the time of the incident, the student was supervised by a one-to-one aide who attempted to stop him from operating the golf cart. We are cooperating with law enforcement to determine the exact circumstances surrounding the accident.”
In a letter to families from the superintendent’s office, officials said, “Words are insufficient to describe the pain our students and staff are now feeling… Our top priority as a district has always been to ensure the safety, health and well-being of those we are privileged to serve. More than anything, we owe it to our students to provide them with safe and supportive campuses that cultivate learning. This tragic accident has devastated our community, and we continue to gather the facts. We will work closely with our law enforcement partners as they complete their investigation into the circumstances of this accident.”
The district has provided a “team of school psychologists” to help anyone in the community who needs it, officials said.
Authorities did not identify the teen, but family members identified him as sophomore student Manny Perez, whom they described as autistic with limited motor skills.
Relatives told reporters they want answers from the school and the district about what happened and why Manny was operating a golf cart. Organizers of the GoFundMe page accused the district of “trying to sweep this under the rug and put the blame on Manny,” while saying school staff left Manny “unattended on a golf cart which he crashed.”
“It is unjust for us to simply accept their claim without knowing exact details on who was or was not supervising during the time that this tragic incident occurred,” organizers wrote.
“Manny had a contagious laugh,” supporter Jeanette Martinez wrote on the page. “I will truly miss him and I hope he’s resting (peacefully). Will keep him and his family in my thoughts and prayers.”
The district released a statement late Wednesday saying the boy was never left unattended.
“He had two aides with him when he entered a parked golf cart,” according to the statement. “These aides immediately tried to persuade the student to exit the cart and tried to stop it as it sped forward and ultimately crashed.”
No other students were involved in the crash or “anywhere near the scene,” school officials said.