Walcott Refines Safety Procedures After Child's Disappearance

Thursday, November 14, 2013 - 12:58 PM

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

Schools Chancellor Dennis Walcott announced several changes to safety protocols, in the Department of Education's most explicit acknowledgment that changes are needed following the disappearance of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo last month from his Long Island City school.

Speaking on WOR Radio's John Gambling show on Thursday, Walcott said the city is "doing everything possible" to find the autistic teenager. And he described several safety procedures, some of which were already in place and some that are being refined. A memo was sent to principals this week.

"I informed our principals that we have a number of procedures that we're going to be putting in place and to address issues specific to District 75 students, our special needs students," he said referring to pupils with the most serious learning needs. There are roughly 20,000 District 75 students.

He said Building Response Teams in co-located buildings that contain a District 75 school, such as Avonte's Riverview School, must include a District 75 staffer. These five-member teams were supposed to include a representative from every school in the building, but the D.O.E. says it's now making the District 75 representation mandatory.

Walcott also said newly constructed buildings, such as the Riverview School, could get extra security features.

"We're going to review and utilize a variety of different security measures, including two way radios, video surveillance and public address systems. And we're also identifying the potential use of additional security resources such as panic buttons as well. And then we're going to be doing additional training, which we always do, with the school safety agents in collaboration with the police department, and making sure that we include procedures around our District 75 students."

The NYPD trains school safety agents in collaboration with the Office of Safety and Youth Development, providing support for students with special needs. But the D.O.E. said the agents will now get augmented training for this population.

The union representing school principals said it supports the new measures.

But Joe Williams, who has a son with autism and is the former president of the District 75 Community Education Council for parents, said these changes "should have happened before."

He said parents of students with special needs have long been concerned about the procedures in co-located buildings, where many safety agents are not familiar with autism and other disabilities.

"They're not aware of their behaviors," he said of the agents. "They're not aware of what may seem to be aggressive behavior may be the normal behavior."

Williams was perplexed that D.O.E. still doesn't require panic bars.

"Someone should know if that child is leaving the building from an exit that is not monitored. And all exits in the building are not monitored," he said.

The D.O.E. sent principals a reminder of the protocols for what to do when a child is missing. They are supposed to call 911 once it's confirmed that a student has exited the building. The NYPD said the Riverview school called approximately 45 minutes after the child left the building, according to video surveillance. It's not known when school officials first noticed that he was gone.

The investigation of Avonte Oquendo's disappearance continues, led by the Special Commissioner of Investigations for the New York City schools.


Comments [3]


I live in Southern California and have a son that has severe Autism. He was lost once at school before right after drop off. He was found by another Mom. This scared me so much that I started a company that produces patches that are worn to let people know this person needs help and provides ID and emergency info. Yesterday we had a booth at a resource fair. I was shocked to meet a family whose son had left school and was missing for 2 days. Also I met 2 Moms of sons who slipped away from their school in the past. One of them getting a mile away and found by a family friend. All of these children being low verbal and in mod to severe placements. These placements have very low adult to child ratios. So I do not understand how this can happen so often from schools.

Nov. 18 2013 05:53 PM
Walter Wenger from canastota, NY

My son was seriously injured -- severe TBI -- when he was off school grounds but while in their care and custody. Court stated that once off school property, school has no responsibility. School stated that school is not a prison, so not required to monitor students. School then failed to provide FAPE -- Federal District judge's Decision -- parents required to do it if school fails to obey IDEA, then to sue for reimbursement -- New York State.
Missing boy is thus NOT school's concern, and if disabled, is parent's responsibility! Leave the school out of it -- blame the parents!

Nov. 15 2013 02:47 PM
anonymous from nyc

This is why I would never put my child in a district 75 school.

Nov. 15 2013 06:31 AM

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