City Councilman Paul Vallone (D-Whitestone) introduced legislation last week that seeks to expand U.S. Sen. Chuck Schumer’s (D-N.Y.) “Avonte’s Law,” which will provide tracking devices for autistic children.
Schumer’s legislation proposed expanding a U.S. Department of Justice program that provided GPS tracking devices for people with Alzheimer’s, to include children with autism as well as other disorders in which running away from parents and caregivers is common.
He announced the legislation after Avonte Oquendo’s remains were found on the College Point waterfront in January. Avonte was an autistic 14-year-old boy who vanished from his Long Island City school in October. Video footage showed Avonte running through the Riverview School’s halls and then sprinting out of one of the school’s doors, which had been left open.
Justice subsequently agreed it would provide the funding to expand the program after Schumer made his announcement.
The tracking devices would cost $80 to $90 and a few dollars a month to operate, according to Schumer’s office. They could be worn as wristwatches or anklets or clipped onto belt loops or shoelaces.
Vallone said he wants to expand the program even further so it covers all disabilities.
“We received so many phone calls from parents in and outside the district about this service,” he said. “The cries from the parents were, ‘We want this, too.’ It’s a great idea for children with autism, but I don’t think you want to exclude children with other disabilities.”
Vallone is also pushing for city funding for the program, which he estimated could cost $10 million using Schumer’s estimates.
“That’s not a huge number when you’re talking about the safety of our children,” he said. “The money to me will have to make it happen. You’re talking about your children and those who are most in need.”
According to DOE statistics, 124,181 students were registered for special needs programs in the city’s public schools in 2013. This excluded charter schools and was 12 percent of the entire public school population.