Bed-Stuy City Councilman Robert Cornegy’s School Safety Bill Scheduled for Hearing
By Stephen Witt
The City Council this week finally scheduled a June 12 hearing for Bedford-Stuyvesant City Councilman Robert Cornegy, Jr.’s seemingly common sense legislation to warn educators when elementary and special education students leave school unattended and on their own, the bill remains languishing in committee and is being held up for final passage.
Dubbed Avonte’s Law after the tragic disappearance and death of public school special education student Avonte Oquendo, the measure would require alarms to be installed in school buildings housing 600,000 elementary and special education students.
“We’re excited about this opportunity, which has been long-awaited,” Cornegy told reporters. “I wasn’t just thinking as a legislator. I was thinking (first) as a parent. I was extremely frustrated for the parents. I promised I would do something for them.”
Cornegy proposed the measure in March, two months after Avonte, a 14-year-old autistic boy, was found dead after slipping out the side door of his school in Long Island City, Queens.
Forty-six of the 51 City Council members support the bill, and Cornegy said since Avonte’s tragic death, at least seven other young students had been found walking out of school buildings.
“This safety issue must be addressed promptly before the expansion of prekindergarten brings thousands of additional 3- and 4-year-olds into school buildings this fall,” said Cornegy.
Meanwhile, Bed-Stuy Principal Dawn Best of PS 59 reportedly installed alarms on six double exterior doors at her school, which she paid out of her budget after a pre-K pupil slipped out and walked home in January.
If the bill ultimately passes, the alarms will cost about $160 apiece, or between $1 million to $1.5 million in total.
An aide to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito told reporters the Speaker supports the concept of school-exit alarms and believes hearings will help determine the best solutions — in concert with the de Blasio Administration — in addressing student safety.
According to reports, Mayor de Blasio’s Administration has previously raised objections to the measure.
“I don’t think the department is going to support that bill,” Deputy Schools Chancellor Kathleen Grimm said at a March 18 hearing on the mayor’s preliminary budget.
“We do not think it’s a prudent use of funds to do every single door. 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.”
De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell said ensuring that school entrances are secure and schools are safe are, of course, priorities for the administration.
Among the organizations supporting the bill are the NYC Parents Union and the union representing school safety agents, Teamsters Local 237. The United Federation of Teachers have not issued a comment in favor or opposing the measure.