Two Brooklyn councilmembers convened in the rec center of Dyker Heights elementary school P.S. 176 on Friday, November 20 to celebrate the successful and fast-paced installation of audible alarms within every public school across District 20, as part of a citywide effort under Avonte’s Law.
The legislation—signed by Mayor Bill de Blasio in August, 2014—aimed to improve school safety in wake of the Avonte Oquendo’s death. Oquendo—an autistic student of the Riverview School in Queens—was just 14 when he exited his school and was never seen alive again.
“With no alarms on the school’s doors, young Avonte was able to simply slip out the door and disappear in silence,” said Councilmember Vincent Gentile. “His mother’s anguish was felt throughout New York City.”
“I wish it didn’t have to happen,” said Bed-Stuy Councilmember Robert Cornegy, the lead sponsor of the bill and father to a son with special needs. “When I saw the video of Avonte pushing his way through that unalarmed door in Queens, I felt sick. I know we all did. But I was also blessed to be in a position to do something to support parents, teachers, principals and school safety agents in keeping the most vulnerable children in our system safe.”
Since the bill’s passing, the Department of Education has conducted inspections citywide to determine which schools were in need of new alarm systems. The $6 million-plus rollout—which has already been completed in District 20 and, according to elected officials, will be finished in 1,400 schools by the end of the year—has been swift.
“This is a bill that was drafted, enacted and funded in record time,” said Cornegy, “and that’s a testament to the fact that the city of New York and all the stakeholders understood the importance and the value of not having another child or another family affected in this way.”
Over 20,000 alarms will have been installed by its completion.
“We can never do enough to provide a safe environment for the students of this district,” added Dr. Joseph O’Brien, principal lead facilitator for District 20, followed also at the podium by Justin Brannan, deputy director of Intergovernmental Affairs at DOE.
“This is an important step in the DOE’s continuing efforts to provide a safe and supportive learning environment to all of our students across the city,” said Brannan. “We’re pleased that the process of installing door alarms in virtually every school building will be completed by the end of the year deadline.”
“I commend Councilman Cornegy, the DOE and superintendents for working together harmoniously to tackle this issue and ensure that we protect our children and keep them safe in their sanctuaries of public schools,” said Gentile, who joined Cornegy in capping off the press conference with a live demonstration of the new alarm.