Jennifer Hogue, director of legislative services for the Ohio School Boards Association, said schools are currently required to notify families, but the law only calls for notification within a “reasonable” amount of time, rather than any set standard.
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The new bill would standardize the time but would allow schools to try to make contact via phone, email, text or other method. If the call is automated, there must be verification that the call was either answered by its intended recipient or that a voice mail message was left. In the Defreeze homicide, the school’s automated system was not working that day, according to a Cleveland.com report.
“The original bill asked that it be a human making the phone call,” Hogue said. “We explained that districts across the state have different systems – some have electronic systems that can cross reference when a teacher enters attendance in a classroom with the list of students who have been called in, and the system can make an electronic phone call much quicker than someone sorting through and dialing a phone.”
Hogue said those and other adjustments made after the bill was introduced will allow schools to comply with the law with only minor tweaks to their current system.
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Centerville Superintendent Tom Henderson said that for years his district has been making these calls quickly in the morning, so little adjustment will be needed.
“At the middle schools, advisory period ends at 9 a.m., so we’ve generated an absentee list by 9:15, and if parents have not called in, we’re contacting them by probably 9:25 or so,” Henderson said.
He acknowledged that larger schools, especially those with higher absentee rates, could have a lot of calls to make fairly quickly.
Other concerns come if a parent has changed phone numbers and forgotten to notify the school.
But Henderson said Centerville schools have emergency contacts for each student if they can’t reach the parents. He added that Centerville is fortunate that a high percentage of parents call in student absences.
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The bill was originally introduced by State Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland.
“Time is a very important factor in finding a missing person. Senate Bill 82 does not aim to blame school districts for what happened to Alianna or other missing children across the state,” Williams said. “It is simply designed to make sure that across Ohio parents are made aware when their children are not in school and can take quick, necessary action to find them if they don’t know where they are.”