After a unanimous vote by the City Council today, the Audible Alarms Bill has become Avonte’s Law.
The city council passed the bill (Intro. 131-A)– introduced by Councilmember Robert Cornegy who represents Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights– which addresses the problem of unalarmed doors in public school buildings.
Cornegy authored the bill– his first– in response to two recent incidents where students wandered away from their school buildings unchaperoned: Four-year-old Symeir Talley-Jasper, who walked out of his preschool at William Floyd P.S. 59 in Bed-Stuy; and Avonte Oquendo, the 14-year-old boy whose body was found three months after he wandered away from his school in Queens.
Since March, Cornegy has been championing the bill, originally named “The Audible Alarms Bill,” to a number of stop and starts. The original bill was written to have alarms installed on every exit door in every school and would take effect at the start of the 2014/2105 school year.
But the bill stalled in the Council and the mayor’s administration also raised objections: “I don’t think the department is going to support that bill,” Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said at a March 18 hearing on the mayor’s preliminary budget, stating it wasn’t a prudent use of funds to install alarms on every single door.
The most recent bill was amended and passed by a unanimous vote. One of the changes included identifying “alarms” as any audible alert indicating an unauthorized departure from the school building.
Also added to the bill was a measure that requires the Department of Education report to the Council to provide training of school principals in student safety protocols. And the DOE will have until May 30, 2015, rather than the close of 2014, to report to the Council on their evaluation of where alarms are to be installed and to provide a schedule for installations.
“I’m proud that my first bill as a new member of the City Council addresses a problem that is important to my own constituents and all the parents of New York City,” said Cornegy, shortly after the bill’s passing. “I believe that the Department of Education has been persuaded that where appropriate, door alarms are not only a prudent but a necessary investment in the safety of our children.”
The DOE will meet with key Council representatives in October to discuss the criteria for which doors will be equipped with alarms, with most installations taking place over the summer break 2015.
“I know that the Oquendos, the Talley-Jaspers, advocates for this bill and my fellow Council co-sponsors share my commitment to ensuring that we never again see images like those that haunted us in the case of Avonte Oquendo,” said Cornegy.
“Our children are too precious to let them slip out of our safe care. I look forward to working with the Department of Education on implementation of this bill and as soon as possible, to seeing the actual installation of door alarms in schools across the city.”