Senator Charles Schumer introduces ‘Avonte’s Law’

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Senator Charles Schumer with Vanessa Fontaine, mother of Avonte Oquendo, at a press conference on Sunday, Jan. 26 introducing legislation called "Avonte's Law."Photo courtesy of Senator Charles Schumer's Office
Senator Charles Schumer with Vanessa Fontaine, mother of Avonte Oquendo, at a press conference on Sunday, Jan. 26 introducing legislation called "Avonte's Law."

A day after autistic teen Avonte Oquendo was laid to rest, one politician announced legislation that could help prevent a similar tragedy from happening.

Avonte, 14, was last seen at the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City on October 4 when he ran out of the school. Almost four months later his remains were found washed up in College Point.

There have been conflicting reports on how the Rego Park teen, who cannot verbally communicate and is supposed to be supervised at all times, managed to leave the school.

Senator Charles Schumer announced Sunday he will be introducing a bill called “Avonte’s Law” which will create and fund a program providing voluntary tracking devices and increase support services for families of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or any other developmental conditions in which bolting is common. The program would only include children whose parents choose to use the devices.

“The tragic end to the search for Avonte Oquendo clearly demonstrated that we need to do more to protect children with autism who are at risk of running away,” said Schumer. “Thousands of families face the awful reality each and every day that their child with autism may run away. Making voluntary tracking devices available will help put parents at ease, and most importantly, help prevent future tragedies like Avonte’s.”

The bill would create a new grant program within the Department of Justice allowing the agency to award funds to local law enforcement agencies or organizations wanting to provide tracking devices for children with Autism. The funds would also help provide training and other resources to schools allowing them to be prepared to react to a situation like Avonte’s.

The new program would be modeled from the federal program already being used to help track seniors with Alzheimer’s.

“Avonte’s Law” will authorize $10 million in federal money to purchase the voluntary tracking devices and training for parents, schools and local law enforcement. The program would be run by the police department or other local law enforcement and would provide training on how to use and maintain the devices. 

The tracking devices could be worn as non-tampering wristwatches, anklets or be clipped onto belt loops or shoelaces. The devices could also be woven into specially designed clothing.

“The tragic fate of Avonte Oquendo hit home with parents in New York and across the country,” said Liz Feld, president of autism advocacy organization Autism Speaks. “We need to raise awareness and increase education so that tragedies like this never happen again.”

 

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