The city Department of Education must be held accountable for the death of Avonte Oquendo, who vanished from a special ed program at a Long Island City school without a trace in October until his remains washed up on College Point shores last week.
The Riverview School is part of the public school system and a guard was on duty when the autistic teen bolted out an unlocked side door. His sprint through the hallway into the open air was captured on surveillance tape, the last known images of the 14-year-old Rego Park boy.
Where was the guard when Avonte dashed out into the streets near the East River? When did his teacher or other school employees notice that he was missing after lunch? It took the school nearly an hour to notify authorities that Avonte was nowhere to be found, precious time lost when police or school personnel still had a chance to find the nonverbal child.
The NYPD has investigated Avonte’s disappearance but has not shared its findings with his family, which has filed two Freedom of Information requests. His mother has gone to court to challenge the NYPD’s rejection of her bid to learn what may have happened to her son.
The DOE released its own internal documents after the family’s lawyer filed a FOIA request.
The Police Department launched an extensive search for Avonte that lasted months, but the NYPD owes an explanation to his mother, who needs the data officers compiled to prepare her wrongful death suit against the city and the DOE.
In the meantime, U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer has proposed that autistic children be outfitted with tracking devices that can signal their whereabouts if they disappear and are unable to communicate. This voluntary measure is long overdue. He is introducing legislation known as “Avonte’s Law,” but the Justice Department has already agreed to pay for the devices.
Special needs kids have their own floor at Riverview, which has extra aides to monitor autistic students, who are prone to running and wandering. Every school for these children should have an alarm system, which would ring anytime a side door to the outside is opened without permission during regular sessions. This is not a high-tech solution, but it would compensate for human error when guards on duty or school personnel are distracted or negligent.
Tracking devices and door alarms would help reassure parents that they will see their children again after dropping them off at one of the city’s special education schools.