Claims of Security Problems at Missing Child's School

Thursday, October 24, 2013 - 06:52 PM

Main entrance of Riverview School in Long Island City, where Avonte Oquendo disappeared on October 4 (Alana Casanova-Burgess/WNYC)

The Queens school where a 14-year-old boy with autism disappeared almost three weeks ago lacked several safety features, according to Capital New York.

The report claims a memo from a teachers union official complained that staff members didn't have passwords to access live feeds from school security cameras on Oct. 4, the day Avonte Oquendo ran out of the building in the middle of the school day. The camera feeds could have let them see Oquendo leave through a side door. Surveillance video was recorded, however, and viewed later that afternoon.

According to Capital New York, the Oct. 9 memo was from a Queens-based United Federation of Teachers official based on a series of meetings the official attended with D.O.E. safety experts, staff and administrators at the Riverview School, which is for students with special needs. The memo reportedly claimed the building also lacked a monitor at the front desk where the safety agent might have seen Avonte leave the building.

But the attorney for Avonte's family, David Perecman, said he was told by sources that there was a video monitor at the guard's desk. He also said the family claims the safety agent saw the boy, asked him where he was going and - when the mute child didn't answer - did not stop him from exiting.

"Frankly it makes no sense," Perecman said. "What should've been done is she should have taken her walkie-talkie out of her pocket, called the principal, said 'I have a child here.'"

The memo obtained by Capital New York also noted that the school did not have panic bars on the side door that would have triggered an alarm. But sources tell WNYC they are not required. Some schools have them, others don't.

According to page 108 of the School Construction Authority's own design requirements, security in schools is "primarily a matter of visual surveillance" tracked and monitored by cameras, with no mention of alarms.

"Security desks and administrative offices should be located to best serve visual control," the document states. "Internet Protocol Digital Video Surveillance (IPDVS) systems are standard in new schools. Cameras are to be focused on circulation paths and other select areas. Ancillary spaces for monitors and video archiving equipment is to be provided."

By not requiring alarms, Perecman said, it appears schools are more concerned with "who gets in" than with who gets out.

The Department of Education would not answer questions from WNYC about the use of alarms, nor would it respond to the report in Capital New York. It issued this statement from Chancellor Dennis Walcott:

“Right now our prime focus is on finding Avonte, and we have been working with N.Y.P.D. on the search. I spoke with  Avonte’s family, and my prayers, and the prayers of the entire school community, are with them during this terrible ordeal. The Special Commissioner for Investigations is investigating what happened, and we intend to take a serious look at his findings. I have meanwhile ordered my staff to examine the procedures that we have in place to prevent something like this from ever happening again.“

Avonte's special education plan also noted that he has a tendency to run in halls. The family claims he broke away between lunch and the return to class, in a large building with other schools. The Riverview School in Long Island City shares the same building as The Academy for Careers in Television and Film and the Hunters Point Community Middle School.

The Police Commissioner has suggested the NYPD might have to scale back resources soon in its massive search for the missing boy. Volunteers and community members, however, have been urging the department to keep going.


Comments [2]

edward from queens ny

that security guard knows he is in a special education school. he should done his job and ran after that student. that securtity guard should of ran after that student. that security guard, the teacher, and the principal all should be let go. end of story. because they have representation, unions and other people to protect the city work that is only reason why they have a job. I have worked as a special education teacher in bronx special education school. All the security guards know the special education students, they say hello to them in the morning. and they make sure no one runs out of the school. For that security guard to do nothing does not make sense. Also i the side door should been locked with alarms settings. that is failure on the board of education. security cameras another responcibility on the board of education. how come the principal did not have a ID Tag card on child's clothing. how come a Para-professional was not assigned to this child when he gets off the bus at school. so many things could been put into place by the principal of the school to prevent this in happening. i guess these are measures that are done with only pre-k to 5th grade special education students. I guess since this child was 14 years old, maybe he should been in a high school environment for autistic children. at least there you know a high school student would of ran after this child.
there is no excused for something like this to happen. Where was the therapy put into place to help this child find a person if something happen. Did the school ever go over what to do if a child needs help. This child is 14 years old what was the school doing with this child from 5years old to 14 years of age.
why cant the DOENYC speak about this incident to news reporters? maybe this is our wake up call for all special education school to make sure the safety of students are in place.

Dec. 05 2013 07:39 AM
sandy from 11050

How do security guards know which children are special needs? How are mute children who can't communicate kept track of? Is there a way of placing a small gps on their bodies without disturbing them?

Oct. 30 2013 06:57 AM

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