NBC 4 New York
Six weeks after Avonte Oquendo was last seen walking out of his Queens school, the city Department of Education is looking to beef up school safety protocols to prevent another disappearance. Checkey Beckford reports.
Six weeks after 14-year-old Avonte Oquendo was last seen walking out of his Queens school, the city Department of Education is looking to beef up school safety protocols to prevent another disappearance.
The department said Thursday that it is looking into ways to better train staff and safety officers and improve used of radios, PA systems and cameras in the wake of Avonte's disappearance. Officials plan to also implement panic buttons in schools for use in similar situations.
The announcement comes after an intense and highly publicized search for the autistic teen, who was last seen skipping away from school Oct. 4.
Avonte's family has been critical of the nonverbal teen's Long Island City school for not properly supervising the boy and for not notifying police immediately after his disappearance.
Speaking with NBC 4 New York last month, the family's attorney, David Perecman, said the school knew Avonte had a history of running away based on notes in the boy's individualized education plan.
"'He transitions nicely from class to class, but,' -- this is the operative phrase -- 'but he does get excited at times and run off,'" Perecman said, reading from the notes. "'Run off' has a meaning to it, it means run off, disappear, go away."
Last month, news website Capital New York released a memo from the city teachers union stating that security measures weren't in place at Avonte's school the day he disappeared. According to the memo, no administrators at the school had passwords for the closed-circuit TV system and no one was watching security monitors at the front desk to see the teen walking out of the building. Alarmed panic bars weren't installed on doors either, according to Capital New York.
Meanwhile, the search for the boy continues into its 42nd day. Volunteers have joined NYPD officers and family members in the search, which has spread outside New York City's borders. Members of the city's autistic community and a high-profile search firm have also pitched in.
Recently, Police Commissioner Ray Kelly said he wasn't optimistic Avonte would be found alive. He later backed off that statement, saying "hopefully" the boy would be found safe. Avonte's family, however, have said that they know the boy is alive.
A $95,000 reward has been offered for the Avonte's safe return, including a $5,000 contribution from the Rev. Al Sharpton. The activist and TV personality also pledged the help of his National Action Network.