Cleveland Plain Dealer
Schools must call
parents if kids are absent, says bill after Alianna DeFreeze killing
By Patrick O'Donnell, The Plain Dealer
CLEVELAND, Ohio - Schools across Ohio would have to call parents right
away if kids are not in class each morning under a new bill that would
make these so-called "Alianna Alerts" mandatory.
State Sen. Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat, Williams told the
Senate Education Committee this week that her bill is in response to
the murder of Alianna DeFreeze. The 14-year-old Cleveland girl had
boarded an RTA bus on January 26 to head to her charter school, but
never made it.
She was found dead four days later in an abandoned building.
Her family did not find out that she did not make it to school until
late afternoon that day, delaying any search.
Williams' bill would require schools to make at least one attempt to
call parents within 60 minutes of the start of school if a child is
absent and parents have not already notified the schools.
"It is imperative that parents be notified immediately if their child
is absent from school," Williams said. "In a missing persons case,
every hour is vital."
Williams said data collected by the Ohio Attorney General's office
shows that parents reported nearly 19,000 children missing in 2015.
Though 97 percent were found unharmed, four were killed and 563 were
Districts, she said, have very different policies about notifying
parents of absences. Some call parents that morning, some notify
parents each week and some by month.
Bay Village is among the most aggressive, with a longtime policy of
calling parents at work, at home or on a cell phone right away
"We take children's safety very seriously," say Sean McAndrews,
principal of Bay Middle School. "We don't ever want to be in a case
where we don't tell a parent and something happened to them on the way
Bay Village even goes a step further. If the school can't reach the
parents, it calls the police department, which then visits the house,
just as it would for welfare checks on sick or elderly residents.
Those visits have not uncovered serious issues, beyond an occasional
truant, so far.
"We find kids at home all the time because they're sick and parents
forget to call," said Officer Darren Ingham.
State Sen. Peggy Lehner, the Kettering Republican who chairs the
Education Committee, is co-sponsoring the bill. It also received
favorable response from other committee members, who praised the
concept and had questions only about details of how it would work.
Williams' bill does not require schools to go as far as Bay Village if
parents do not respond to a call. State Sen. Cecil Thomas, a Cincinnati
Democrat, wondered if the state should require additional steps. Lehner
"I don't really see a downside to following up a little further," she
State Sen. Gayle Manning, a North Ridgeville Republican, wanted to be
sure that an hour is enough time for schools to take attendance at
multiple classrooms, get the information to the office and still have
time for calls.
Williams said she believes schools can do that work, though many
employees may not want that hassle. She and Lehner encouraged districts
to give feedback on the feasibility of that timing.
It is also unclear whether automated calls will be allowed. The bill
requires a person to call, though Williams said at the hearing that
automated calls would make the calls less unwieldy.
Automated calls were at the center of the DeFreeze case. The girl's
school, E Prep Woodland Hills, has a system to notify parents within
two hours if a student is not at school. But school officials say that
system was not working properly that day, so the girl's parents never
received a message.
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