September, 2014 | Littman Krooks, LLP
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Avonte's Law Addresses School Safety for Children with Special Needs

September 22nd, 2014

Avonte’s Law, which calls for audible alarms on school building doors, was passed by New York City Council and signed into law by Mayor Bill de Blasio in August. The law is named for Avonte Aquendo, a 14-year-old boy with autism who went missing from his school in Queens and was later found dead. Avonte’s Law is one action among many that are needed to protect students with special needs.

The new law requires the New York City Department of Education to evaluate the need for audible door alarms and install them where they are deemed necessary. The evaluation and a timeline for installation must be completed by May 30, 2015. The law as passed is not as strong as the original proposal, to simply require audible alarms on school doors.

On October 4 of last year, Avonte Aquendo went missing from the Center Boulevard School in Long Island City, Queens. Avonte had severe autism and was not able to speak. Volunteers participated in a massive search for the boy. His body was found in College Point along the East River three months later.

Mayor de Blasio said that the legislation would protect other children from tragedy. Vanessa Fontaine, Avonte’s mother, said she supported the new law, but the family still had unanswered questions. She filed a wrongful death lawsuit against several city agencies in June.

Avonte’s Law is one practical response to the tragedy, but more action is needed to keep children with special needs safe. Children with autism in particular may be prone to bolting or wandering, but children with other special needs often require additional supervision as well. On September 15, a 15-year-old girl with an emotional disabilities and ADHD disappeared from her school in Brooklyn, leading to a search by family members and police. Thankfully, Nashaly Perez was found safe, but her mother said that officials at the special needs school did not take the disappearance seriously enough. How many times does a child with a disability have to disappear from school before New York City takes strong and effective action?

Every child with special needs has different needs, and parents must ensure that a child’s Individualized Education Program (IEP) reflects the level of supervision that is needed, and that school officials are aware of the requirements and follow them. However, Avonte’s case is one tragic example that reveals that school officials do not always follow through on instructions in a student’s IEP. Avonte’s IEP included a warning from his mother that he needed one-on-one supervision, because he liked to run and would leave the building. An investigation showed, however, that no one who was with Avonte the afternoon he ran had been informed of that tendency.

Avonte’s Law represents a step in the right direction, but school officials and teachers can and should do more to protect children with special needs.


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Guest Blog: Camp Huntington Starts Weekend Camp in September

September 15th, 2014

Our latest guest blog was written by Alexandra Mellor, Program Director, Camp Huntington

camp huntington banner

Camp Huntington, a 52-year provider of summer camp programming for individuals with developmental disabilities, is happy to announce a new program: Weekend Camp. It’s an exciting new addition to our long-running summer programs and will enjoy our same unique philosophy and mission. Campers and staff all experience the “Huntington Spirit,” a positive and enthusiastic reaction to our combination of a therapeutic camp environment with acquiring goals, along with excellently trained and supervised staff, providing loving and nurturing care.

The population we serve, individuals aged 6-22 years, with a wide range of different developmental disabilities, spend the summer engaged in fun activities such as arts and crafts, sports, drama, music and swimming. It’s important to note that we welcome back campers who exceed the 22 year age limit and choose to continue attending our program. The program differs from other camps for many reasons; activities such as cooking and functional academics are offered, and each individual camper has specific goals (social, academic and daily living) that come from home and/or school which are worked on daily. The staff are trained to work with our unique population, with a primary emphasis on safety. We also attend to increasing independence and skill development, while decreasing undesirable behaviors, all in a setting that differs from home and school and focuses on generalization and maintenance.

“Our child made such large strides this summer; is much more independent; happy; well-behaved; expressive; relaxed,” are common comments heard from many happy parents. Over the years many parents have asked if we could offer programming during the year. Starting September 2014 we will be offering Weekend Camp programs throughout the year, including a 5-day break over the New Year Holidays and a week-long Spring Break program.

Weekend Camp will offer a slightly different program design than our summer program. Our summer programs focus on both large and small group activities, increasing socialization and being part of a larger Camp Huntington family.

Weekend programs will begin with a smaller group format that is designed on:

–        working together,

–        emphasizing community skills,

–        cooperation, and

–        socialization.

We’ve limited enrollment to for Weekend Camp to 14 campers to start, growing the program each year. Weekend Camp will focus on family and group living, with a large focus on being a responsible part of a group and living with others. These skills are important, as many of our campers age-out of school programs and transition to group homes or other residential programs. Weekend campers will be involved in all aspects of their stay; preparing meals, setting the table and cleaning up after themselves, making their beds, cleaning the communal areas, and generally being a productive part of their community. This natural setting will offer great practice opportunities to hone important skills and discover new ones.

Each weekend will involve a community outing, which is usually dependent on the theme of the weekend. The first weekend (September 26th-28th) is All About Apples! We will go apple picking on Saturday, and decide what delicious apple dessert to make as a group for Saturday dinner! We plan on utilizing many different community settings throughout the year; (the local YMCA, bowling alleys, malls, local farms, etc.) and will use these field trips to continue to work on community and vocational skills such as communicating with community helpers, using money, and time management.

Register now on their website and request information there as well: or call toll-free at : 855-707-2267. Listen to our podcast with Mike Bednarz, Executive Director, Camp Huntington, by clicking here.

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