Our grief over Avonte Oquendo’s death is compounded by the knowledge that it might have been prevented. The danger of kids running out of school cannot be eliminated but must be minimized.
Every school is required to have a Safety Plan that spells out all contingencies and delegates duties. Have you seen the safety plan of your child’s school? Does it cover emergencies such as intruders, fires, medical crises, environmental hazards, accidents and lockdowns? Is there a clear chain of command or logistical options and assigned tasks and personnel for routine operations? As a parent, you have the right to this information.
Given the nature of kids and the dynamics of schools, regardless of size, population and the way they are run, there is no such thing as a routine day, or at least such days cannot be taken for granted. Even the most tranquil school is volatile occasionally. Every hour is extraordinary and often unpredictable. Vigilance is tested without letup and sometimes without mercy.
The legal requirement that children with disabilities should be educated in the “least restrictive environment” is compassionate and sensible. General and special education kids learn from each other and together they learn from the teachers and classmates they share.
But we must also provide the extra security needed for the supervision of our most vulnerable students. Lives depend on striking the balance of freedom and control.
There are more than 1,700 public schools, and all of them have many doors to the outside that the fire code prohibits from being locked on the inside. It would take an army of school safety agents to be posted at every door of every building all day.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) said he intends to introduce a federal government program that would give parents of children with autism the option of attaching tracking devices to their kids. It would be called Avonte’s Law.
But some parents are likely to feel uneasy about having their kids wear ankle bracelets, which they associate with felons, or be GPS-tracked like sanitation trucks. Nor is the idea of installing cameras in classrooms popular.
Every school must have in place a coordinated strategy to stop a repetition of the scenario that cost Avonte his life. Paper protocols are not good enough, and like fire extinguishers the strategies must be updated, tested and ready to activate. There should be practice drills as are held by first responder agencies and all members of the community should experience first-hand what it means to be on high alert.
The tragedy of Avonte is too terrible for words, but words can at least lead to actions that may forestall another such tragedy. Let those words proclaim the special sanctity of the lives of children and the providential role of each of us to protect them.