Avonte’s Law, which calls for audible alarms on school building doors, was passed by New York City Council and signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio in August. The law is named for Avonte Aquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism who went missing from his school in Queens and was later found dead. Avonte’s Law is one action among many that are needed to protect students with special needs.
The new law requires the New York City Department of Education to evaluate the need for audible door alarms and install them where they are deemed necessary. The evaluation and a timeline for installation must be completed by May 30, 2015. The law as passed is not as strong as the original proposal, to simply require audible alarms on school doors.
On October 4 of last year, Avonte Aquendo went missing from the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City, Queens. Avonte had severe autism and was not able to speak. Volunteers participated in a massive search for the boy. His body was found in College Point along the East River three months later.
Mayor de Blasio said that the legislation would protect other children from tragedy. Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte’s mother, said she supported the new law, but the family still had unanswered questions. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several city agencies in June.
Avonte’s Law is one practical response to the tragedy, but more action is needed to keep children with special needs safe. Children with autism in particular may be prone to bolting or wandering, but children with other special needs often require additional supervision as well. On September 15, a 15-year-old girl with an emotional disabilities and ADHD disappeared from her school in Brooklyn, leading to a search by family members and police. Thankfully, Nashaly Perez was found safe, but her mother said that officials at the special needs school did not take the disappearance seriously enough. How many times does a child with a disability have to disappear from school before New York City takes strong and effective action?
Every child with special needs has different needs, and parents must ensure that a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) reflects the level of supervision that is needed, and that school officials are aware of the requirements and follow them. However, Avonte’s case is one tragic example that reveals that school officials do not always follow through on instructions in a student’s IEP. Avonte’s IEP included a warning from his mother that he needed one-on-one supervision, because he liked to run and would leave the building. An investigation showed, however, that no one who was with Avonte the afternoon he ran had been informed of that tendency.
Avonte’s Law represents a step in the right direction, but school officials and teachers can and should do more to protect children with special needs.
Learn more about special needs planning and special needs advocacy by visiting www.specialneedsnewyork.com.
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