Sound the Alarm: Schools Install Alarms to Prevent Students Leaving School

This year, besides the bustling noise of students, there has been another sound at Curtis High School in Staten Island _ new alarms.

While students are used to bells ringing to alert them to the start of classes, the start of the school year came with newly installed alarms at every exit of the school’s building, except for the main entries. The alarms, or door sensors, and are part of a citywide effort to put alarms on doors in response to the case of Avonte Oquendo. Avonte was a 14-year-old high school student who had autism. He left Riverview School in Long Island City unsupervised in Oct. 4, 2013 and was missing for several weeks. His body was found four months later in the East River in Queens.

In response to his death, the City Council of New York passed “Avonte’s Law,” which required city schools to evaluate the need for alarms to prevent a situation like what happened to Avonte.

The Department of Education is now in the process of installing about 21,000 audible alarms, with the hopes of getting them in place by the end of the year. Elizabeth Rose, Deputy  Schools Chancellor, told The Associated Press that 97 percent of schools surveyed asked for the alarms.

At Curtis High, the alarms are usually set up from 7:00 a.m., when the school opens, to 1:58 p.m., the end of eighth period (school officially ends at 3:35 p.m.).  The times differ on weekends when students may be in school.

Jose Barbano, the school’s dean, likes the alarms.

“It’s a good way to track (students) and to see if people are secretly inside (the building),” he said. “All staff should respond to it.”

If students are caught sneaking out of the school or being identify on camera for leaving, they would be called to the dean office and they would get punished for it as in a phone call home or worst possible case of leaving numerous of time suspension.

“If students leave the building they will be marked absent, which will affect their grades and academic performances,” said Cathy Richardson who works in the attendance office.

But senior Emely Luna doesn’t think the alarms set out what they aim to do.

“I feel as those they are pointless because people keep cutting and people still leave the school,” she said.

There are other reasons why some students are not fans of the alarms. They are not allowed to make their exit through side doors as they did in the past; now, every student must enter and leave through the main doors. There is also a concern of accidentally setting off the alarms by leaning on them.

When the alarms go off, they sound like sirens and they last about 5 to 10 minutes before the stop.

“My classes aren’t near them but I hear them once in awhile,” said Emely.

Senior Suja Gopalakrishna says that she is usually in the third floor but she doesn’t really hear them if they go off.

Dulce Guzman, a sophomore, understands why the alarms are there. Since she is underage, she feels she should not be leaving school without her parents’ knowledge.

School officials agree.

“It’s a safety issue. Student are required to stop In place. If something happens to them it’s not a good thing. The schools are accountable,” said a security guard who would only identify himself as Level Three Barrios, the level of safety officer he is in the school.

“The only students that could leave if a legal guidance come to school. We patrol the halls.”

But Emely disagrees with the school’s policy that prevents students from leaving on their own before eighth period ends.

“I prefer to go on my own, because why should my mom come to the school?  She doesn’t have time do it that,” she said.

Principal Jaenicke understands that some students are frustrated.

“Sometimes we can’t accommodate to their (students) needs,” he said. “The alarms are to prevent the students from leaving without notice … The students should go to class.”

“We want to keep high on our list safety and security of students and staff,” he said.