By Alex Robinson
Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a bill into law last week which will require schools with small and disabled children to consider installing door alarms.
The piece of legislation, known as “Avonte’s Law,” was introduced to the City Council in the wake of the death of Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old autistic boy who wandered off his school’s property in Long Island City in October.
Avonte’s disappearance triggered a citywide search, which ultimately ended in tragedy when the boy’s remains were found on the College Point shore in January.
“Every parent in this city felt the urgency and fear as we searched week after week for Avonte,” de Blasio said. “Every one of us felt the pain of his loss. And every one of us is committed to making sure our schools have the tools they need to keep our children safe. This legislation will protect other children from tragedy.”
Video footage showed Avonte running past a security guard three times and down the halls of the Riverview School he attended in Long Island City, before darting out an open door. The city’s medical examiner was not able to determine the exact cause of Avonte’s death.
Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, recently filed a $25 million wrongful death claim against the city and the city Department of Education for failing to prevent the boy’s disappearance.
“The passage of Avonte’s law will give principals more options to better ensure the safety of their students,” said Councilman Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights), chairman of the Council’s Education Committee. “The legislation requires the DOE to report on schools that need alarms the most and then to make a decision about where to place those alarms.”
DOE officials had pushed back against the bill in hearings, arguing there was no catch-all solution to the problem of children walking off school premises.
But the mayor ultimately decided to support the bill.
“The safety of our students comes first, and as a mother and grandmother, my heart hurts for Avonte’s family,” city Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña said. “We have a steadfast commitment to providing a safe and supportive learning environment for all children in all of our schools, and today’s legislation underscores how closely we are working with the City Council, teachers, administrators, law enforcement, parents and students to ensure our students are safe.”
The law will require the DOE to evaluate doors in all elementary schools and those serving disabled students by May 30, 2015. If it is determined that a child can open a door, the school will be required to install an alarm on it.
The DOE will then have to submit a report to the Council with their findings.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 718-260-4566.