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Queens Chronicle

Avonte’s Law gets called to hearing

Author confident bill will pass, worried about implementation time frame

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Posted: Thursday, May 29, 2014 10:30 am

Avonte’s Law will finally see its day on the City Council floor as the first committee meeting has been scheduled for June 12.

The legislation would require alarms on the exits of all public schools to prevent students from leaving the building unattended — an act that ultimately resulted in the death of 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo.

Until Tuesday, supporters of the bill felt the City Council had been dragging its feet.

“We had been waiting on a hearing by the chair and finally got one, but until today, they were moving slowly on it,” said Councilman Robert Cornegy (D-Brooklyn), the chief author of the bill.

The bill is expected to pass through the Council without issue as Avonte’s Law has the support of 46 out of 51 Council members, but it isn’t passage that is worrying Cornegy.

“I’m most frustrated by the timing,” he said. “This bill needs to be heard, voted on and then you have the implementation; getting these alarms in place. Even after the adoption, I still have a tremendous amount of work ahead of me.”

Cornegy had hoped to implement the bill in every school come September.

The requirement would only apply to schools that hold pre-K through 5th grade as well as schools that have District 75 students. In total, these schools hold approximately 600,000 students.

Meanwhile, several students — both special and regular education — have wandered out of their school buildings.

One concern that Cornegy has heard often regards pricing and where the funds for the cameras will come from.

Cornegy cited an incident in Brooklyn where a principal witnessed a 4-year-old walk out of her school.

“She took it into her own hands to install alarms and it cost under $1,500 out of the school’s safety budget,” Cornegy said.

The councilman said ideally, other schools would pay for the cameras — which figure out to $160 apiece — using their school safety budget as well.

As for the hearing, to be brought before the Education Committee, Cornegy said he can only gain from what people have to say.

“Everyone who puts forward a bill thinks it is the greatest bill in the world, but this is why I look forward to the hearing,” he said. “I get to listen to advocates who will share their ideas or concerns to make sure that there’s something we do not miss.”

Cornegy added that there are not large holes in the bill that would stall it once it goes to committee.

“I only see amendments that could be more inclusive and make the bill better,” he said. “In the end, anyone I’ve spoken to with any level of sanity is just concerned with keeping children safe.”

There has been no word on whether Avonte’s mother, Vanessa Fontaine, will be among those testifying during the hearing.

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