City Council Passes Avonte’s Law

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

City Council passed “Avonte’s Law” last Thursday in a unanimous vote.

The bill is named for Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old autistic student who was found dead after he went missing from PS 277 last winter. It will require the installation of door alarms at schools chosen by the Dept. of Education in consultation with the NYPD, with priority given to pre-kindergarten and special education schools.

The DOE has until May 30, 2015 to submit a list of schools.

Avonte’s Law initially met resistance from the DOE, which objected to a “one size fits all solution” making alarms mandatory at all special need schools, a spokesperson said at the time.

However, the bill’s language was subsequently revised to give the DOE an opportunity to choose which schools get alarms, and to extend the evaluation deadline.

“We commend the City Council’s efforts to create the safest school environments where our students can thrive inside and outside the classroom, and this legislation is another important step toward achieving that goal,” said DOE spokesman Harry Hartfield in a statement to the Queens Tribune.

Supporters say the law will prevent future tragic losses like Oquendo’s.

“I really wish it did not take such a tragedy as Avonte’s passing for there to be such a law, but I really think there will be good from this,” said Celia Green, a mother of four autistic children and the first vice president of the Citywide council for District 75. District 75 comprises the City’s special need schools.

“I’m really happy that there is a measure in place, in light of the fact that there’s also very few school agents these days,” Green added.

David Perecman, who represents the Oquendo family in a lawsuit they are bringing against the City and nine school officials, said, “I was with them when we had the hearings at the council and they’re happy to see anything that gets done to make sure that this doesn’t happen to another child.”

The bill now moves to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it.

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.