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With Avonte’s Law passed, DOE to install door alarms in some schools

City Council unanimously passed a bill on Thursday that will help schools install door alarms to increase student safety, but exactly how many schools will get the alarms won’t be known until next summer.

Under Avonte’s Law, the Department of Education and the Police Department must determine which schools should get door alarms to prevent students from leaving school unnoticed. The legislation specifically mentions elementary schools and District 75 schools—which serve students with special needs—but does not mandate how many schools must receive alarms.

This loophole addresses the department’s previous concern that a one-size-fits-all safety solution would not work in such a large district.

Spokeswoman Devora Kaye said the department supports the bill, adding, “The Department will continue its constant dialogue with the City Council, principals, teachers and families as this legislation is implemented to ensure the safety of all students at every school.”

Avonte’s Law comes in response to the death of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal autistic student who escaped his school in Queens through a side door last October and whose body was found three months later. At least seven other city students have also raised worry by slipping out of their schools this year.

Councilmember Robert Cornegy, the lead sponsor of the bill, recognized Avonte’s family at the City Council meeting. “We have done our best to make this situation right,” he said.

The education department must submit a report to City Council by May 30, 2015 listing schools where door alarms would be “an appropriate safety measure,” according to the law, along with a timeline for alarm installation.

Door alarms would cost between $125 and $175 a piece, according to the New York City Parents Union, which supported the bill.

The law does not offer criteria for determining which schools need alarms, though Cornegy said he will work with the department to discuss guidelines in October.

Most alarm installations will happen next summer, although some could happen sooner, according to an email from Cornegy’s office.

Also by May 30, the education department must report on current safety training for department employees, including the “type and scope of the training administered.”

Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito praised Avonte’s law before the Council’s Thursday vote. “This is a bill that will make our educational facilities safer for students and give parents the peace of mind they deserve when they send their children to school for the day,” she said.