Avonte’s Law Update
Avonte’s Law Goes Into Effect in New York City
New York Mayor Bill de Blasio signed Avonte’s Law into effect on August 7, 2014. The enactment imposes new requirements intended to protect special education students. It was passed by the City Council by a 49-0 vote a month earlier.
Federal “Kevin and Avonte’s Law”
Seeing a need for similar legislation at the federal level, U.S. Senator Charles Schumer introduced a federal version of Avonte’s Law in 2015. The federal Avonte’s Law had a different focus than the local law passed by Mayor de Blasio, but the ultimate goal is the same: Protecting vulnerable populations from a major source of potential harm.
Thanks to the support of lawmakers, advocates, and supporters who made thousands of signatures to petition Congress, the federal “Avonte’s Law” measure was re-introduced as Kevin and Avonte’s Law in 2017.
The bill (H.R. 4221) was signed into federal law by President Donald Trump on March 23, 2018.
Avonte Oquendo’s Story
In the United States, there are many laws that bear people’s names. From Meghan’s Laws requiring registration of sex offenders to the Brady Bill requiring federal background checks before firearm purchases, these laws were passed to honor victims failed by the “system.”
Every “apostrophe law” that is named for a victim is a memorial of a tragedy. Avonte’s Law is no different Avonte’s Law aims to protect disabled children while honoring the victim of a tragedy. The law is named for a 14-year-old autistic teen named Avonte Oquendo.
Avonte attended Riverview School—a Long Island City school located in Queens. Unlike most teenagers, Avonte was severely autistic and he was not able to speak. The school was aware of this disability and had a responsibility to provide adequate supervision and a safe environment.
Unfortunately, this did not occur. Video footage from Riverview School shows that an adult left an outside door open on Oct. 4, 2013. A short time after the door was left ajar, Avonte was seen running out of the school building with no one stopping him. This was the last time the young boy was seen alive.
School authorities allegedly took approximately 45 minutes to alert the police to Avonte’s disappearance. When news broke that he was missing, a search was launched not just by the New York Police Department but also by concerned volunteers citywide. Avonte’s mother continued the search for months despite there being no sign of the teenager.
Tragically, the search ended three months later when remains were found near the East River. Avonte’s family blames the school and city for allowing him to walk out unnoticed, and a wrongful death lawsuit was filed by The Perecman Firm, P.L.L.C. to hold the city accountable for the loss of Avonte’s life.
Compensating the family for their tremendous loss will provide a measure of justice for Avonte, but that is not enough. Avonte’s Law helps ensure other children will not fall victim to the same tragedy that took the life of this young man.
Department of Education Implements Alarms on School Doors
By the end of 2015, nearly all NYC schools had installed door alarms, in addition to a number of other precautionary measures, to prevent students from being able to leave their schools unnoticed.
Avonte is also not the only autistic child who is prone to wandering. The New York Times stated that almost 50% of children with autism wander off. This often occurs in an effort to escape noise, sound, and other sources of overstimulation. The same can be true of adults with developmental disabilities.
Alarms on school doors alert school officials much more quickly when a child has left, or has attempted to leave, a building. With its widespread implementation in NYC schools, it’s a precaution all schools throughout the U.S. should consider adopting.
Federal Law Includes GPS Monitoring Devices
The federal Kevin and Avonte’s Law calls for establishing standards for voluntary GPS tracking devices for both autistic students and others with developmental disabilities who have a tendency to wander away from caregivers. The federal program is similar to an existing program that tracks seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s. Parents and caregivers would have the option of choosing whether or not to use the GPS devices.
The DOJ agreed to allow existing grant money to be used in providing funds for voluntary GPS tracking devices. With these devices, a parent or other caregiver can potentially find a child who has wandered, hopefully before anything bad occurs.
Protecting all children is a top priority, and while Avonte Oquendo’s story is a tragic one, the lessons learned from his untimely death and the new laws passed in his honor may help to save many more lives. The Perecman Firm, P.L.C. is proud to honor his legacy.