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Mayor de Blasio signs ‘Avonte’s Law’

Khorri Atkinson | , Stephon Johnson | 8/14/2014, 1 p.m.
Avonte Quendo

Sometimes, it takes a tragedy for something to get done.

Last week, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed legislation into law to address the issue of door alarms in public school buildings in the wake of Avonte Oquendo’s death.

Called “Avonte’s Law” (Introductory 131-A), the legislation requires the Department of Education to evaluate the need for door alarms on exterior doors at elementary schools and District 75 schools serving students with special needs.

Last October, Avonte, an autistic boy, left his Riverview School, Long Island City school, running out of a security door undetected. His remains were found along the East River in College Point, Queens, in January.

“It was a moment that crystallized for all of us—especially for those of us who are parents—but really for all of us, the need to do something to additionally protect our children,” said de Blasio last Thursday before he signed the bill. “We’re committed to making sure that our schools have more tools at their disposal to keep our children safe. And this legislation will make a real difference—it will allow us to do more to help make sure there are no more such tragedies.”

The bill, sponsored by Brooklyn Council Member Robert Cornegy, passed 49-0 with two absentees in late July.

“This is very historic, and my family and I are very, very grateful for all the love and support this city has shown us,” Daniel Oquendo, Avonte’s father, told the Amsterdam News. “I love and appreciate all of them. Our family is blessed to have this love from the city we love. We are pleased that Avonte is being remembered and honored. Thank you, New York.”

Under the law, the city’s Department of Education must submit a report that indicates which schools should receive door alarms and create a timeline for installation by May 30 of next year. The DOE is also required to submit annual reports to the City Council thereafter on student safety training protocols. The measure didn’t state how many schools city wide will get alarm doors.

“The City Council has been hard at work this summer, passing Avonte’s Law to improve the safety of our public school buildings. With the mayor’s signature today, the bill goes into effect, and the process of evaluating buildings throughout the system can begin,” said Cornegy. “This is the right way to respond to the tragedy of Avonte’s loss—with action to mitigate the risk of unalarmed doors for all children, whether they have special needs or are merely precocious and unaware of the risks they might face if they slip out a school door.”

Thursday, de Blasio said work is already being done—including the installation of alarms and security cameras—to ameliorate safety in public schools across the city. “We’ve enhanced the missing student protocol, improving school safety plans to better serve District 75 students in particular, and increasing training for school safety agents in terms of how they work with students with special needs.”

At a City Council hearing in June, the DOE echoed their opposition against the proposed mandate, which they said would cost the city approximately $9 million. The department’s deputy chancellor, Kathleen Grimm, argued, “There is no one-size-fits-all response that will prevent a student from leaving a school building without permission.” She said alarms can’t replace adult supervision, and the “alarms might frighten children with autism” and cause classroom disruptions. However, the DOE announced their full support of the bill when it was passed by the City Council.