The parents of two autistic boys on Long Island are claiming victory in a fight with local schools over their kids' right to wear GPS tracking devices to class.
Dayann and Brian McDonough of North Merrick turned to the GPS devices after their sons, Douglass, 10, and Donovan, 8 wandered from home or school 14 times in two years.
"I can't even describe for people what it's like to wonder if this is the time he might not come back," said Dayann McDonough.
The McDonoughs tried everything to prevent the wandering so prevalent among autistic children.
They added alarms to windows and extra locks to the doors. Dayann even began sleeping on a couch near the front door. Still, the boys got loose, at times even slicing through window screens.
"It's a fear every parent of an autistic child lives with," said Brian McDonough.
This past summer, the parents decided to try GPS technology but, the McDonoughs say, their sons' schools refused the family's request to let the boys wear them there.
"We were blindsided," said Brian McDonough. "They didn't want to listen to common sense."
The schools argued that GPS devices threatened the confidentiality of other students, but after a month of dialogue, the parents and schools reached an understanding.
"We would not put up any roadblocks to a device designed to ensure a child's safety," said David Feller, superintendent of North Merrick school district, where Donovan McDonough attends class.
A spokesperson for Nassau BOCES, where Douglass attends class, added, "We do allow the use of GPS tracking units as long as there is no component that may compromise confidentiality."
A spokesman for the New York State Education Department said it appears there is no uniform policy about the use of GPS devices at school.
State statistics show there are roughly 2,300 autistic children in Nassau County schools alone, and according to a study published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, roughly half of all autistic children will wander at least once.
"You don't know if today's the day it's going to be your child," said Brian McDonough.