Schools to Get Audible Alarms After Boy’s Escape, Death

June 4, 2015 Updated: June 4, 2015

NEW YORK—New York City is installing 21,000 audible door alarms at public schools to prevent another tragedy like the disappearance and death of an autistic student in 2013, city education officials said Thursday.

The alarms will be in place by the end of 2015, Deputy Schools Chancellor Elizabeth Rose said.

Principals, teachers, and school safety agents also will receive additional training on managing students during transitional periods, like lunchtime when they can slip out unnoticed.

“Schools will all have security and be safe for our students,” Rose said.

Fourteen-year-old Avonte Oquendo, who was autistic and unable to speak, walked away from his Queens school and was found dead in a river months later.

A March 2014 report released by the special commissioner of investigation for city schools found that several errors led to Avonte’s death. The report described how the teen broke away from his classmates after lunch. A school safety agent told investigators she saw a boy in the lobby but did not know he was a special-needs student, the report said. The agent said she called out twice, “Excuse me!” but the boy did not respond; she said she could not chase him because she could not leave the front desk unstaffed.

All the schools were surveyed and 97 percent of them requested the door alarms.

In response to Avonte’s death and a handful of incidents involving students disappearing from schools, City Council members passed a bill known as Avonte’s Law last year. The law requires the Department of Education to survey all schools in the 1.1 million-pupil public school system to evaluate the need for additional safety equipment, including audible alarms.

Rose said all the schools were surveyed and 97 percent of them requested the door alarms. The others either already had the alarms or lease space in buildings with security systems.

Council members joined parent advocates and education officials at a news conference on the steps of City Hall to celebrate the city’s progress in implementing the law.

“This rate of change in a system as big as ours is commendable,” said Council member Robert Corneghy Jr. of Brooklyn, who sponsored the legislation.

Darlene Boston, an organizer with the group StudentsFirstNY and the mother of an autistic boy who graduated last year, said parent advocacy was key.

“When it comes to the safety of our children, moms and dads like me won’t take no for an answer,” she said.