A new law that takes effect Friday will require schools to notify parents within 120 minutes of the start of the school day if their child doesn’t show up for school.
Dubbed “Alianna’s law,” the legislation is named after 14-year-old Alianna Defreeze of Cleveland, who was abducted at her bus stop in January 2017, taken to an abandoned home, sexually assaulted, tortured and killed. Alianna’s parents didn’t know she was missing until the end of the school day, when her mother called the school.
“If her parents were notified, the could’ve started police searching for her and maybe found her before she was murdered,” Sen. Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, co-sponsor of the bill said last year when the bill was passed and signed by former Gov. John Kasich.
State Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, sponsored the law.
“I am thrilled that Alianna’s Alert (formerly known as Senate Bill 82) will take effect tomorrow. Parents can now feel more secure knowing that they will be notified when their child does not arrive to school,” she said.
“ Every second counts when a child is missing, and it is important that parents are informed,” said Senator Williams. “I am also thankful for the many constituents who reached out to legislative offices to express their support for this law. Their constant commitment and efforts are what really pushed this bill to the forefront and I am very grateful. This law takes the next steps in ensuring that our children are safe when walking or taking public transportation to school. Alianna’s Alert will be a constant reminder that the safety of our children should be our greatest concern.”
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Lehner said some Ohio school districts have no policy requiring that parents be alerted if their child isn’t in school. Area school districts contacted by the Dayton Daily News say they notify parents if their child is absent, though many don’t do so until the end of the school day.
Dayton Public Schools Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli said in November that DPS’s policy requires notification of a parent by the end of the school day.
Lolli and other area school district leaders say it would be difficult to meet the law’s mandate. Large school districts could have hundreds of students absent on any given day and the contact information they get for parents isn’t always accurate.
“It would be a burden on all school districts, but I’ve come to expect that from the legislature,” said Springfield City Schools Superintendent Bob Hill. Springfield has an automated system that calls parents every day by 5 p.m.
“I don’t think a phone call 120 minutes after students are absent is going to have any impact (on student safety or attendance),” Hill said.
Hamilton City Schools doesn’t have an automated system to alert parents. Instead, attendance officers and office staff start calling each parent after morning attendance is taken. They don’t have a time limit, and sometimes it can take multiple calls to reach someone, business manager Larry Knapp said.
“You do your level best to make all of these phone calls to the numbers they provide to you,” Knapp said, adding that the district may have to buy an automated system if the law passes.
Then-Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine, now governor, testified in support of the bill, saying there are currently more than 600 children on his office’s online missing children database.
“In 2016, over 19,000 children were reported missing in Ohio, and while the vast majority of those were recovered safely, those who have not been found deserve our attention,” DeWine testified. “We should strive to do whatever we can to find and reunite them with their families.”
The law allows districts to notify parents by several means, including a phone call, text or email.
Williams said Ohio would be the first state to set a strict time frame on how long schools have to report a kid missing.
“It is imperative that parents be notified immediately if their children are not present in school,” she wrote in sponsor testimony to House members. “In a missing person’s case, every hour is vital.”
Alianna’s parents also testified in support of the bill. Her mother Donnesha Cooper said she called the school 10 hours after the start of the school day because she had a parent teacher conference that day and wanted to see if her daughter was waiting for here there. She was told her daughter never signed in.
“I was not notified that my child had not been in school the whole day,” she said. “The situation that I am going through happens all too often and many other families have felt my pain.”
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