As of Friday, Ohio public schools are on the clock to notify a student’s parent or guardian within two hours if the student is absent from school without a note.
The law that just took effect was dubbed “Alianna’s law,” after 14-year-old Alianna Defreeze of Cleveland, who was abducted at her school bus stop in January 2017 and killed. Alianna’s parents didn’t know she was missing until the end of the school day, when her mother called the school.
FIRST STORY: Schools talk about challenges in notifying families
“Parents can now feel more secure knowing that they will be notified when their child does not arrive to school,” said Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, the sponsor of the bill. “Every second counts when a child is missing.”
Many local schools have already been notifying parents via an automated call tied into their attendance tracking software, while others are making changes this year because of the law.
Springboro schools spokesman Scott Marshall said his district has had a robo-call system the past two years, and it was just a matter of training staff to use it and making sure the district’s timing matched the law. Springboro doesn’t make the calls as soon as the school day starts, to account for tardy students.
“After an hour (of school), we have it checked and ready to send a notification, but if they come in tardy, we can remove them from the list before the call goes through,” Marshall said. “If a student doesn’t report to school … those parents need to be the first to know. Any way we can communicate that better and more efficiently is a plus.”
Dayton Public Schools officials said months ago that the new requirement will be a challenge, given hundreds of absent students daily in a district of 12,000-plus. Dayton’s previous policy required a call by the end of the school day. Superintendent Elizabeth Lolli was not available for comment on the issue Friday.
Dayton Public Schools parent Angela Worley has always been worried that something similar to the kidnapping and murder of Defreeze could happen in Dayton, she said.
Worley’s sixth-grade daughter Arielle attends Charity Adams Earley Girls Academy and previously attended Valerie Elementary. At both schools Worley said she generally got a call around 11:15 a.m. if she forgot to report that her daughter wouldn’t be in school that day. That’s four hours after the 7:10 a.m. start time at Charity.
Twice she’s been specifically worried about her daughter’s safety in traveling to school — once when she got a call because Arielle was accidentally marked absent, at a time when Worley was working in Troy.
“A lot of parents leave before their kids. I had to leave before my kid, so I just assume that she’s going to be in school,” Worley said. “It’s not like everyone just works around the corner from their children’s school or their home, so every minute is precious.”
The other instance was when her daughter’s bus drove past her in the morning without picking her up, so Arielle had to walk home. Worley said it was lucky she was off work that day, so she could take her to school and then follow up with the transportation office.
Huber Heights school officials described a three-step process in their district where teachers take attendance in their classrooms, the names of absent students are sent to secretaries, and the secretaries prepare and send automated calls for the students with unexcused absences.
EDUCATION: Plan would increase funding for most schools
Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said years ago his district had volunteers who came in and helped the secretaries make absenteeism calls. Now they follow the same system Huber Heights described, but both districts said parents play a crucial role.
“A potential hole in the new requirement would be that we have to rely on good information from our parent community,” Henderson said. “If a phone number changes and we are not provided this new information, then it can be difficult to reach some parents. Overall we have had good cooperation.”
The law says schools can contact parents via phone, text, email and other methods. It does not require that schools actually speak to a parent, as they cannot control whether the parent answers the phone. But the law says automated calls “must include verification that each call … either was answered by the intended recipient or the system leaves a voicemail” with the information.
New Lebanon Superintendent Greg Williams said his district uses robo-calls at the elementary and middle schools, but the high school principal prefers the personal interaction of a human call. Williams said the new law just means paying close attention to timing and having a backup for the attendance secretary when needed.
“A lot of times, a parent (who had to leave for work) finds out that their child overslept, and that phone call home gets the student in to school that day,” Williams said. “Anything we can do to give parents a heads-up that there may be a potential issue – when they think their children are at school – is a good thing.”
Thank you for reading the Dayton Daily News and for supporting local journalism. Subscribers: log in for access to exclusive deals and newsletters.
Thank you for supporting in-depth local journalism with your subscription to the Dayton Daily News. Get more news when you want it with email newsletters just for subscribers. Sign up here.