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Council Considers 'Avonte's Law' to Require More Alarms in Schools

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The City Council is considering a bill that would require alarms on the doors of school buildings to prevent students from leaving unattended, but the Department of Education is not in favor of the idea. Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

They're calling it Avonte's Law, in honor of the 14-year-old boy with autism who ran out of his Long Island City school last October and whose remains were discovered in the East River in January.

Speaking before City Council Thursday, Avonte Oquendo's grandmother said she thinks requiring all elementary and special needs schools to have alarms on the doors could have saved her grandson's life.

"Cameras and alarms should be on at all times during school hours,” said Doris McCoy, Avonte’s grandmother.

Council Member Robert Cornegy introduced the bill after eight children walked out of their schools since Avonte's disappearance.

But Department of Education officials say they do NOT support the idea of requiring all schools install alarms.

“There is no one size fits all response that will prevent a student from leaving a school building without permission,” said Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm.

The DOE wants individual school principals to be able to decide, as they do now.

"Door alarm systems may be a viable option for some schools as one element of a comprehensive school safety and security plan,” said Grimm.

The teachers union is also not necessarily in favor of mandated alarms.

But although both the department and the union oppose key parts of this bill, they're also both careful not to be overtly critical of it, given the sensitivity of the subject.

The DOE's official response is it has concerns with the legislation but is still reviewing it.

Near the end of the hearing, after the high-ranking education and union officials had left the room, family members spoke.

"Listen to what we're saying. It's the law to send our children to school. It's the law for you to protect our children. It's the law for you to send our children back home to us. Because if we have to send them to you, we want them back.And what we’re saying to is we urge you to put this law in effect today. Yesterday,” said Mary Jasper.

Jasper’s four-year-old great-grandson, Symeir, walked out of his school in January and walked all the way home, with no coat and, most importantly, no adult even noticing he'd left.

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