For years, I have dealt with the struggles of being a parent of a child with autism. Because of this, I have taken great interest in reporting on research that is being done to develop better treatments and improve diagnoses for this condition. I have also reported on the fact that the rates of autism in this country are quite elevated – and how in some cities and regions, the incidence rates are disproportionately high.
Fortunately, the federal government has taken notice of this epidemic and has funded millions of dollars’ worth of research to find the culprit behind these developmental disorders. But until we know more about what causes this condition, more needs to be done to protect these children from harm – especially in the classroom.
Parents of autistic children face many trials when it comes to educating their children. Many teachers are not trained on how to properly teach kids with special needs, and certainly, curriculums in schools fail to accommodate children with autism.
However, what keeps parents with autistic children up at night is the issue of school safety. We see many anecdotal reports in the media about autistic children getting lost, but one of the most heart wrenching stories that I recall was the disappearance of little Avonte Oquendo last summer.
Avonte put a very public face on the many challenges that autistic children encounter, after he slipped out of a side door at his school in Long Island City, Queens last October. No one could believe that a 14-year-old boy could so easily disappear from a New York City school, and after many months of searching, he was ultimately found dead in January.
When the investigation into the incident was concluded, the report read like a comedy of errors. Teachers had not communicated with each other about Avonte’s handicaps, and Avonte’s mother had even warned the faculty beforehand that her son might try to escape. After these reports emerged, parents at the school became concerned over the lack of alarms on the school’s doors, which potentially could have notified teachers of a missing student.
After much public outcry, a proposal was put in place to enact Avonte’s Law, which would require public schools to place alarms on all their exits in order to prevent such tragedies from occurring in the future. This is a simple law that will provide our children with another layer of safety. School safety is not only paramount for autistic children, but to all children – especially given the senseless, violent events that have occurred in many of our nation’s schools over the past few years.
This is a no-brainer.
Yet, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio and his administration have raised objections to Avonte’s Law.
“We do not think it’s a prudent use of funds to do every single door,” Deputy Schools Chanellor Kathleen Grimm said at a March 18 hearing. “Children are going to walk out of our buildings unless we know we have totally trained adults in the building who know what the procedures are.”
The excuses have parents outraged – and for good reason. These politicians are more worried about changing procedures and protecting unionized teachers than using common sense to protect our children. It’s how these bureaucrats work. They are beholden to individuals who pay the highest price for their loyalty, and school unions don’t want to put any more procedures in place, because it would just be another item on their to-do list.
I find Mayor de Blasio’s actions shameful. Avonte’s tragedy should be treated with respect, not with excuses and inappropriate concerns. I feel like de Blasio has put more emphasis on eradicating the horse drawn carriages in Central Park than paying attention to this proposed law.
Yes, New York City is moving in a new direction under this mayor. It just happens to be the wrong one.