'Avonte's Law,' Requiring Exit Alarms at Schools, Clears City Council

By Paul DeBenedetto on July 24, 2014 4:32pm 

 Symeir Talley-Jasper, 4, held in this photo by Public Advocate Letitia James, left his Bed-Stuy school unattended in January. Robert Cornegy, right, introduced a bill in the City Council to outfit school exits with an alarm system.
Symeir Talley-Jasper, 4, held in this photo by Public Advocate Letitia James, left his Bed-Stuy school unattended in January. Robert Cornegy, right, introduced a bill in the City Council to outfit school exits with an alarm system.
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DNAinfo/Paul DeBenedetto

NEW YORK CITY — A bill aimed at stopping children and students with special needs from leaving city public schools was approved by the City Council on Thursday.

The council unanimously approved a version of the bill, sponsored by Bed-Stuy councilman Robert Cornegy, that allows the city's Department of Education to evaluate where the alarms are necessary. It gives the agency until May 30 next year to do so.

Most installations will take place in the summer of 2015, a spokeswoman for Cornegy said.

An original version of the bill required all public schools housing elementary and special education students to install the alarms on every exit except the school's main entrance, which is typically monitored by a security guard.

The bill was revised after a June 12 education committee hearing featuring parents, DOE officials and members of the teachers union. It passed the education committee unanimously on Wednesday.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito on Thursday said the changes were a necessary part of the legislative process.

"We understand that sometimes the original intent may be a good one, but sometimes improvements can be made," Mark-Viverito said.

"There is going to be a thorough evaluation of every school building and they will provide a recommendation," she said, adding that if the council doesn't agree with the DOE's recommendation they can push back.

Cornegy developed the "audible alarms bill" after a January incident in which pre-K student Symeir Talley-Jasper left P.S. 59 at 211 Throop Ave. in Bed-Stuy after asking a teacher to use the bathroom.

Symeir got lost in the hallways and walked home to the nearby Tompkins Houses unsupervised and without a coat in the freezing weather.

The bill was also designed to help students like Avonte Oquendo, an autistic 14-year-old boy found dead after walking out of his Long Island City school in October, leading some advocates to dub the new legislation "Avonte's Law."

 Avonte Oquendo, 14, who was found dead after walking out of a Long Island City school.
Avonte Oquendo, 14, who was found dead after walking out of a Long Island City school.
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NYPD

READ: Avonte Oquendo's Family Files Suit Against the City

Cornegy's bill will now go to Mayor Bill de Blasio, who is expected to sign it into law.

Cornegy on Thursday said he thought the bill would help keep kids safe and that the DOE's input would prove helpful.

"I think the assessment is going to be able to give us what we need to go forward," Cornegy said.

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