Dyker Heights

Avonte’s Law increases school safety, lawmakers say

November 23, 2015 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Councilmembers Vincent Gentile (at podium) and Robert Cornegy (at left) came to P.S. 176 in Dyker Heights to offer a progress report on Avonte’s Law. Photo courtesy of Gentile’s office
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Avonte’s Law, which mandates the placement of audible alarms in public schools to warn education officials if a student tries to leave the building, is working well, according to Councilmember Robert Cornegy, who sponsored the legislation that created the law.

Cornegy (D-Bedford-Stuyvesant) came to P.S. 176 in Dyker Heights on Nov. 20, where he joined a colleague, Councilmember Vincent Gentile (D-Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst), at a press conference to discuss the progress the city is making in implementing the program.

The law, which was signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in 2014, is aimed at preventing the tragic case of Avonte Oquendo from happening again. Avonte, a 14-year-old autistic boy, left his Queens school in 2013 without being detected, setting off a citywide search. His remains were found three months later.

In January of 2014, a second incident took place in which a 4-year-old boy, Symier Talley-Jasper, wandered away from P.S. 59, his school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, and walked home without being detected. While that adventure had a happy ending, the incident still troubled officials, including Cornegy, in whose council district the boy lives.

Cornegy sponsored legislation to mandate audible alarms in all schools.

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) has overseen the installation of the audible alarms in several public schools, according to Gentile, who said that all schools that need the alarms will have them by the end of the year.

In total, 21,000 alarms will be installed at a cost of $5.5 million, officials said.

The staff members in all of the schools in District 20 (Bay Ridge-Dyker Heights-Bensonhurst, Borough Park) have been trained in how to use the alarms, Gentile said.

“Getting Avonte’s Law passed brought me into conversation with the Oquendo family, with autism experts, with Community Education Council of District 75 and all of the unions that work in our schools,” Cornegy said. “It brought me into dialogue with my City Council colleagues who have deep connections to their districts that helped them understand the need for this change.”

There was also a live demonstration of the audible alarms at the press conference.

Representatives from DOE and District 20 Superintendent Karina Costantino were on hand to see the demonstration. P.S. 176 is located in District 20.

“I commend Councilman Cornegy, the DOE and superintendents for working together harmoniously to tackle this issue and ensure that we protect our children and keep them safe in their sanctuaries of public schools” Gentile said.

“We can never do enough to provide a safe environment for all of our children. Avonte’s Law provides us with yet another safeguard to accomplish this,” Costantino said.

DOE Deputy Chancellor Elizabeth Rose called the alarms “an important step in DOE’s continuing effort to provide safe and supportive learning environments in all our schools.”

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