New York City

‘Avonte’s Law,’ to alarm NYC school doors, passes City Council

Named for student Avonte Oquendo

July 24, 2014 By Mary Frost Brooklyn Daily Eagle
AP photo of Avonte Oquendo missing poster.
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After several highly publicized incidents where children slipped unnoticed out of school buildings, the New York City Council passed legislation on Thursday to install door alarms in public schools.

“Avonte’s Law” — named for Avonte Oquendo, an autistic teenager who died in October after slipping through an unattended exit door in Queens – would require the city and NYPD to study and prioritize the installation of exterior door alarms in school buildings.

In an incident in Brooklyn, 4-year-old Symier Talley-Jasper walked out of Bed-Stuy’s P.S. 59 on a 12-degree day in January and wandered home without a coat.

Councilmember Robert Cornegy Jr. (Bedford-Stuyvesant, Crown Heights) received kudos via Twitter Thursday afternoon for taking the lead on his first bill.

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“I know that the Oquendos, the Talley-Jaspers, advocates for this bill and my fellow Council co-sponsors share my commitment to ensuring that we never again see images like those that haunted us in the case of Avonte Oquendo,” Councilmember Cornegy said in a statement. “Our children are too precious to let them slip out of our safe care.”

“Avonte’s Law will make our educational facilities safer for students and give parents the peace of mind they deserve when they send their children to school for the day,” said Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito.

Tania Pierre, president of the Bed-Stuy chapter of StudentsFirstNY, brought the idea up to the organization’s members after her own 4-year-old son left school unattended and was discovered walking on Greene Avenue all by himself.

“For all of us parents who trust the City of New York with our children’s safety every morning, we can breathe a little more easily,” she said on the StudentsFirst website.

“I want to thank the Councilmembers for passing this bill, and particularly Councilmember Cornegy for taking the lead.  But the real credit goes to parents and organizers who saw a problem in our community and got vocal.”

In District 75 schools, alarms may not be the entire solution, the Teachers Union  warned.

In testimony in June, Carmen Alvarez, UFT’s vice president for special education, said that learning-disabled kids had a higher incidence of zipping out of  unattended doors, and that schools needed to identify “runners” in advance. “By the time an alarm sounds, it’s already too late.” Alvarez said District 75 schools should have a “comprehensive system of monitoring throughout the day.”

In January, Sen. Charles Schumer called for legislation to provide GPS tracking devices for autistic children and others with a tendency to bolt. The Department of Justice agreed to allow existing grant funds to be used for the voluntary devices.

DOE must submit a list of priority schools by May 30, 2015.

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