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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.

 

Learn more about special needs planning and special needs advocacy by visiting www.specialneedsnewyork.com.


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NYC Makes It Easier to Use Public Money for Private Special Education

August 18th, 2014

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has revealed plans to make it easier for students with special needs to receive public funding for private school education, if their parents believe that their needs are not being met in public school. The action forestalled a bill in the state legislature that would have mandated the changes.

The mayor said that in most cases, when a parent wished to move a child to private school for special education, the request would be resolved within 15 days. The city reserves the right to deny claims, which can lead to lengthy litigation if the parents appeal the decision, but the mayor said denial would be the exception, not the rule.

Parents receiving private school tuition funding would not have to reapply each year as long as the child’s special education plan does not change, and paperwork would be required only every three years, instead of every year.

Advocates for special needs students hailed the decision and said that it will be important to make sure the city follows through.

Court rulings have upheld the right of parents to ask the city to pay for private school when public schools do not meet their children’s needs, but the Bloomberg administration had disputed many such requests, saying that the cost was too high. The city spends about $45,000 annually to educate each special education student in public schools, compared to about $65,000 annually for private school tuition. The city is expected to pay more than $200 million in such cases in 2014.

 

Learn more about Special Education in New York City by visiting www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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Wheelchair Accessible Taxi App Available in New York City

March 7th, 2013

People needing a wheelchair-accessible taxi in New York City will now find it easier to find one.  Accessible Dispatch is a new service available by phone, Internet or mobile app.

Accessible Dispatch is available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, throughout Manhattan.  Upon notification, a wheelchair-accessible taxi is dispatched to your location immediately.  Advanced reservations are not required, but they are accepted.

A taxi may be booked by calling 311.  You may also call in or text a request to 646-599-9999, book online at www.accessibledispatch.com/book, or use the mobile app, WOW Taxi (Wheels on Wheels).

Once the system receives your request, it locates the nearest available wheelchair-accessible taxi, all of which are equipped with GPS tracking.  The request is sent to the taxi’s data terminal for the driver to accept the request and proceed to the location.  If the closest driver does not accept the request within two minutes, the request automatically switches to the next-closest driver until an available cab is found.

The fare is the same as for any other taxi in New York City.  Accessible Dispatch pays the driver for the travel time to the pick-up location.  Drivers are trained in ADA requirements, customer service etiquette, and safety protocols for boarding and de-boarding with wheelchairs, scooters, and service animals.

Accessible Dispatch is a service operated by Metro Taxi, a Connecticut taxi company that brought the first wheelchair-accessible cabs to that state.

For more information about our special needs legal services, visit www.specialneedsnewyork.com.

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