A report has disclosed that the New York City Department of Education is planning to install door alarms in over 1,200 city schools before the end of the current school year.
Eliza Shapiro, writing for Capital New York, reports that a group of City Council members, union representatives, and education reform advocates joined together on the steps of City Hall in support of the department’s decision. Avonte’s Law was passed by legislators, requiring the DOE to ensure that schools would be better protected. The law is in memory of Avonte Oquendo, an autistic teenage boy from Queens who was found dead in 2014 after he ran out of his public school without anyone knowing he had done so.
Avonte’s parents and the family’s lawyer believe he might have been noticed if the school had installed functioning door alarms and other measures to keep children secure. The bill was introduced last year by Councilman Robert Cornegy of Brooklyn, and was opposed by the DOE at first. Education officials argued that alarms were not the best method to prevent a student from leaving school. When the bill was changed to require that the department submit a study of which schools needed the alarms, the DOE changed their minds.
The bill was signed into law last summer.
“For those who wondered if a reporting tool could be an effective tool for bringing change, I want to point to some details about the installation,” Cornegy said. “First and foremost, they’ve already begun. Even before issuing [requests for proposals] for contractors to provide the equipment and do the work citywide, the D.O.E. was installing in high-priority schools out of its own safety budget.”
By the end of 2015, 21,000 alarms will be installed and will cost the city around $5.5 million, along with small costs for batteries and maintenance. Schools that already had alarms or were located on large campuses with alternate security measures in place do not have alarms installed.
Two other reports about safety concerns were reported in May. One was based on a significant increase of incidents of unsupervised children on school grounds in 2014, and an April report provided by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli’s office of 184 incidents of students leaving campus without permission.
Additional training for staff and safety agents on how to respond when a student goes missing are also part of Avonte’s Law. Although some schools do have surveillance cameras, a memo stated Avonte’s school had cameras, but that no administrators had access to the pictures or videos taken.
Other mistakes took place on the day that Avonte left his school, reports the Associated Press’ Karen Matthews. First, the teen broke away from his classmates after lunch. When a school safety agent saw the boy in the school’s lobby, she did not know he was a special education student. She said she called out to him twice, but Avonte did not respond. Finally, she said, she could not chase him because she could not leave the front desk unmanned.
Staten Island Advance reporter Diane C. Lore, quotes City Schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña on the impact of increased safety measures:
“This is another step forward in our continuing efforts to provide safe, supportive and challenging learning environments for every student, and I thank the City Council for their partnership.”