- Ohio lawmakers are considering newly introduced Senate Bill 157, which would strengthen the “Alianna Alert” law by shortening the time schools are required to inform parents of student absences to one hour after the absence is noted and by applying a penalty to schools who don’t report these absences within the time frame, Cleveland.com reports.
- The Alianna Alert law, which took effect in April, now requires that schools inform parents of student absences within two hours but applies no penalty for failure to report. The law was originally passed after a 14-year-old Cleveland girl failed to show up for school and her family was not notified until 4 p.m. It was later discovered that she was abducted during a bus transfer, raped, tortured and murdered.
- The current version of SB 157 states that the Ohio Department of Education will decide the penalty if school districts fail to report the absence in a timely manner, but state Sen. Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat who sponsored the new bill, expects that to change as the public provides input on the penalty. One idea under consideration so far includes applying a financial cost for non-compliance.
The tragic tale of Alianna DeFreeze has heightened awareness of the need to track student attendance early in the day and notify parents when their child is absent. Some school employees assume that student absences are known to parents, but that is not always the case. Though kidnappings by strangers are rare, schools also need to consider child custody situations where one parent may fail to bring a child to school without the other parent’s knowledge. And, for older students, the absence may be due to truancy issues of which parents are not aware.
Parents have a reasonable expectation that school leaders should do everything in their power to keep a student safe. While that is not always possible, especially if the student has not even arrived at school, alerting parents of their child’s absence allows parents to begin tracking down the child or calling authorities, if necessary. Attendance tracking software such as SchoolPass and others can help make tracking and parental notification easier. Some schools are also using badge systems or biometrics to help track student attendance.
In Alianna’s case, she reportedly went missing while transferring buses. In areas, such as larger cities, where such transfers are needed, students often get lost in the shuffle. Some rural bus routes require transfers as well. It is important to have someone monitoring these transfer points, whether it is a school employee, a parent volunteer, or law enforcement officers who are aware of the potential danger.
Some communities recruit volunteers or paid monitors to watch routes that students travel on their way to school. In Chicago, for instance, a Safe Passage program enlists help from 20 community-based organizations to make sure students travel safely to school and back and forth from some other activities during the summer. Improving the safety of routes that students travel not only offers protection to students and a sense of security to parents, it also can improve school attendance rates.