New NYC law aims to reduce risks of wandering

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New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio signed a new measure, known as “Avonte’s Law,” on August 7, requiring the city to take new measures to protect students prone to wandering.

The law was spurred by the tragic death of Avonte Oquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism who wandered out of his school in Long Island City, Queens on October 4, 2013, triggering a massive city-wide search.

In January, he was confirmed dead after his body was found on the banks of the East River. The city medical examiner could not determine his cause of death.

Under the new law, the city Department of Education must evaluate the need for alarms on the outside doors of all elementary schools, and other buildings serving students with special needs, in the five boroughs, according to the NBC New York.

If it is found that a child can open the door, the school must install an alarm.

The City Council passed the bill unanimously.

“There’s nothing we can do that’s going to take away the pain but there’s something that we can do to make the life he lived memorable from now on because Avonte’s Law will be remembered for a very, very long time,” Schools Chancellor Carmen Farina told the New York Daily News.

In January 2014, the Department of Justice announced it would provide funding to school districts for tracking devices for monitoring children who are prone to wandering. The funding comes from an existing similar program used for monitoring people with Alzheimer’s.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) has also introduced federal legislation to provide for more funding for tracking devices.

“It’s imperative we do whatever we can to make sure others don’t go through what Avonte’s mother went through,” Schumer said at a news conference on July 25 in Manhattan, according to an Autism Speaks blog post.

The news conference was held as part of meeting in Manhattan between Autism Speaks and the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, to inform members of the public about ways to prevent similar incidents.

The two advocacy groups have an ongoing partnership to offer assistance to first responders when children go missing. According to the advocacy groups, there have been 13 other deaths nationwide resulting from wandering by children with autism.