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Two Central Florida lawmakers want extra safeguards for neurodiverse kids in schools

Autistic students are nearly four times as likely as their non-autistic peers to try to leave school unattended. That’s according to the National Autism Association.
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Autistic students are nearly four times as likely as their non-autistic peers to try to leave school unattended. That’s according to the National Autism Association.

Two Central Florida representatives have co-sponsored a bill that would put extra safeguards in place for students with special needs at risk of running away from school (referred to as elopement in the bill).

Autistic students are nearly four times as likely as their non-autistic peers to try to leave school unattended. That’s according to the National Autism Association.

Representative Anna Eskamani and Senator Victor Torres’ bill would require schools to have a plan in place to quickly respond when a child with special needs goes missing.

It would also require schools to designate a School Staff Assistance for Emergencies Team or SAFE Team in charge of deploying the plan and carrying out the search for the child. Each team would be made up of the school’s principal, vice principal and at least five other members.

“And unfortunately, there have been these really heartbreaking cases where a child has walked away towards something like a body of water or towards traffic, and we ended up losing that child," said Eskamani.

The goal of the bill, Eskamani said, is to act quickly in order to save lives, and prevent further tragedies.

“There have been situations here in Central Florida, not necessarily in our schools, but in people's private homes where we have lost young people with autism, due to elopement and drowning. And so this is our effort to put some safeguards in place for our schools," said Eskamani.

If the bill passes this legislative session, each school would need:

  • A search grid of the school campus and surrounding areas, including bodies of water, intersections, train tracks and stations, parks, playgrounds and other features that may pose a risk for students with special needs;
  • Procedures for school personnel to notify school administrators and safety officers if a student with special needs elopes and to immediately initiate a search;
  • Instructions to initiate a “Code Gray,” which will alert all school personnel of the elopement, and to immediately contact the student’s parent;
  • The names, positions and contact info of all members of the SAFE (School Staff Assistance for Emergencies) Team

A similar bill was introduced last year, but died in committee. Read the full bill here.

Danielle Prieur is WMFE's education reporter.
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