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City Council passes “Avonte’s Law”

Khorri Atkinson | 7/31/2014, 5:44 p.m.
The New York City Council unanimously passed “Avonte’s Law” last Thursday, which calls on the Department of Education and the ...
People rally last month to convince City Council to pass bill Photo by Bill Moore

The New York City Council unanimously passed “Avonte’s Law” last Thursday, which calls on the Department of Education and the New York Police Department to evaluate the need for alarms and install audible alarms on doors of public school buildings that house special needs programs.

The bill was sponsored by Brooklyn Council Member, Robert Cornegy, who said he was humbled that his first bill was an “emotional topic” for everyone, especially parents like him. “We have done our best to make this situation right,” he said and asked for a moment of silence before the vote in honor of Avonte Oquendo.

The measure passed 49-0, with two absentees. It was inspired by the death of the 14-year-old autistic boy, who left his school in Long Island City, Queens, last October without anyone noticing. His disappearance sparked a citywide search that lasted more than two months. His remains were found along the East River in January.

“Avonte’s Law” faced some skepticism in June at a public hearing in the City Council, when the deputy schools chancellor, Kathleen Grimm, stated that “alarms might frighten children with autism” and cause classroom disruptions. However, Council members announced their full support for the bill.

Under the approved measure, which has been sent to Mayor Bill de Blasio to be signed into law, the DOE must give the Council a list of schools that need door alarms, and the alarms must be installed by May 30, 2015. It specifically pointed out that elementary schools and District 75 schools, which serve special needs students, will get door alarms.

However, the measure did not specify how many schools citywide will get door alarms. The DOE is also expected to send an annual report to the City Council about the progress of the program. Officials have not announced the cost to the city of the alarms.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito lauded Cornegy for the sponsored legislation. She said, “This is a bill that will make our educational facilities safer for students and give parents the peace of mind they deserve when they send their children to school for the day.”