A month after autistic teen Avonte Oquendo went missing from a New York public school, lawmakers and educators alike are looking for solutions on how to ensure that it doesn’t happen again; for Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY), the answer may lie in GPS tracking.
Similar to a current federal program for Alzheimer’s patients, Schumer’s plan is to provide a GPS tracker to any family with a special needs member with a propensity for wandering. Schumer’s proposed plan would be funded by the Justice Department and operated out of local NYPD precincts, allowing parents to apply for a GPS tracker to care for their at-risk children.
In recent years, Schumer notes, GPS tracking technology has become more advanced and suited for personal tracking.
“While we may think that a GPS can only be used to track down cars and iPhones, it can also be used for other important ends,” Schumer said. “Especially in the hustle and bustle of a city like New York, the devices are crucial.”
Schumer’s plan comes in the wake of the tragic disappearance of Avonte Oquendo, a non-verbal, autistic 14 year old who went missing after walking out of his school in Queens, NY in October. Avonte’s case has caused many politicians and education officials to question what systems are in place to deal with wandering cases. One petition, Avonte’s Alert, looks to send out national alerts when non-verbal or lower functioning individuals go missing, but Schumer’s is the only plan designed to stop wandering before it becomes a search-and-rescue mission.
A modern GPS tracker can be worn on a belt, attached to a shoe, or placed in a backpack, providing real-time tracking in the event of an emergency. A parent or school can even set up a geofence alert to receive an immediate text or email in the event of a special needs student exiting the building.
For some parents, like Kpana Kpoto of the Bronx, the use of a GPS tracker could mean the difference between life and death.
“My son has bolted in the street before,” Kpoto said. “It was just by the grace of God that he’s alive today.”