July 29, 2016 By Hannah Wulkan
The city has agreed to pay a $2.7 million settlement to the family of Avonte Oquendo, a severely autistic 14-year-old boy who went missing from his school in October 2013, and was later found dead by the East River in January 2014.
Vanessa Fontaine, Oquendo’s mother, filed the suit against the city in June 2014 for failing to provide appropriate supervision for Oquendo, despite her warnings to them that his special needs would require extra attention.
The suit charged the Department of Education, the NYPD’s School Safety Division, and several specific school administrators with negligence.
“The law is very strange when it comes to children who die, it doesn’t allow for what I consider to be an adequate recovery and while $2.7 million is a lot of money it isn’t as much as it could have and should have been if the law was different,” said Fontaine’s lawyer David Perecman.
Perecman went on to add that the settlement is bittersweet. “It’s an end but there is no good end to something like this,” he said.
“You can’t replace a child with money, it’s really that simple, and while it’s over for [Fontaine], she still has feelings of frustration, feelings of anger because she doesn’t understand why the Department of Education allowed this to happen and why they didn’t reprimand anyone,” Perecman added.
Oquendo went missing from the Riverview School in Long Island City on October 4, 2013.
Oquendo was missing until January 2014, when remains were found washed up on the Queens side of the East River. They were badly decomposed, but were identified as his through DNA testing.
How Oquendo ended up in the river after leaving the school is unknown, though video footage showed him running through the halls of the school and past a security guard before exiting through a door that had been left open.
“The loss of a child is a tragedy no family should endure, and hopefully, the resolution of this legal matter will bring some measure of solace to Avonte’s family,” said Nicholas Paolucci, the city’s Law Department spokesperson, in a statement.
“The Department of Education has taken a number of steps and is dedicated to taking every measure possible to prevent something like this from occurring again,” he added.
Oquendo’s death resulted in the recent passing of Avonte’s Law on July 14 of this year, facilitating training and emergency protocols for schools dealing with autistic and disabled children to help prevent wandering. These protocols include installing alarmed doors that would be activated when opened. Avonte’s Law was championed in part by New York Senator Charles Schumer.
The suit was first filed in the Queens Supreme Court and was seeking $25 million.
The settlement was originally reported by the Daily News.