School safety initiatives are continuously popping up for K-12 schools and districts across the United States in the wake of heartbreaking school shooting incidents and other tragedies. School communities are taking a stand to encourage law makers to create and update current bills to include new standards in order to keep children safe in and out of school. In April 2019 the ‘Alianna Alert’ Law went into effect in Ohio requiring all schools to alert parents if their children are absent from school within two hours of school starting. This law was named after Alianna DeFreeze, whose murder proved schools were failing to notify parents when their students were not in school.
What Happened to Alianna DeFreeze
Back in January 2017, 14 year old Alianna DeFreeze was on her way to school. She got off an RTA bus on Cleveland’s east side and disappeared while transferring buses. She was never seen alive by her family again.
Her family was never notified that their daughter was absent from school and only discovered she was missing at the end of the school day around 4PM. Days went by and there was no sign of Alianna, which ignited a large city-wide search including a press conference to announce a reward for any and all information surrounding her disappearance and her whereabouts. Unfortunately, soon after this press conference a police officer was searching an abandoned home on Fuller Avenue and came across her body. Shortly after this discovery the medical examiners matched the DNA evidence to a registered sex offender named Christopher Whitaker. He was sentenced to death on counts of aggravated murder, kidnapping, and more.
For nearly two years many asked for the abandoned home where Alianna was found to be torn down. According to Fox8, her family “pushed for the abandoned house to be torn down and others like it because they feel it invites crime.” The loved ones and family of Alianna finally received some closure when the demolition of the house occurred in December 2018.
The ‘Alianna Alert’ Law
In April 2019, the ‘Alianna Alert’ Law finally went into effect. The law requires all K-12 schools to call parents or guardians within 120 minutes of the school day if a child absent from school and parents have not provided prior knowledge or notification to the school, according to The Ohio Senate. “I am pleased that Governor Kasich signed Alianna’s Alert into law,” said Senator Williams. “This bill takes an important step toward 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 of serious concern.”
House Bill 66 was signed and went into effect 4/5/2019 and reads as follows:
“Sec. 3321.141. (A)(1) Within sixty minutes after the beginning of each school day, the attendance officer, attendance officer’s assistant for each individual school building, or other person the attendance officer designates to take attendance for each school building shall make at least one attempt to contact, in accordance with division (A)(2) of this section, the parent, guardian, or other person having care of any student who was absent without legitimate excuse from the school the student is required to attend as of the beginning of that school day. (2) An attempt to contact a student’s parent, guardian, or other person having care of the student shall be made through one of the following methods: (a) A telephone call placed in person; (b) An automated telephone call via a system that includes verification that each call was actually placed, and either the call was answered by its intended recipient or a voice mail message was left by the automated system relaying the required information; (c) A notification sent through the school’s automated student information system; (d) A text-based communication sent to the parent’s, guardian’s, or other person’s electronic wireless communications device, as defined in division (G)(1) of section 4511.204 of the Revised Code; (e) A notification sent to the electronic mail address of the parent, guardian, or other person; (f) A visit, in person, to the student’s residence of record; (g) Any other notification procedure that has been adopted by resolution of the board of education of a school district.”
Why Communication with Parents is Key
Educators are responsible for keeping students safe during school hours, which is why ongoing communication with parents is extremely important and gives them a piece of mind. When it comes to attendance and truancy parents should always be in the know, and certainly should understand the impact of their children missing school.
Encouraging communication with parents doesn’t just cover the bases when it comes to laws such as the ‘Alianna Alert’ law, but also has many benefits for students. Studies have shown that increased parent engagement directly correlates with a student’s academic success, attendance, higher test scores and better grades, improved social skills and behavior, and having a positive attitude toward school. According to PTO today, “One study found that students from families with above-average parent involvement were 30 percent more successful in school than those with below-average involvement. Success was measured by GPA; test scores in math, science, reading, and social studies; promotion and retention rates; and teacher ratings.”
Improving consistency and increasing communication with parents can be as simple as sending text messages home on academic performance or setting up automated attendance alerts using a school notification platform. For Ohio districts, automated attendance alerts can be an incredible solution to make sure schools are abiding by the ‘Alianna Alert’ Law by notifying parents when their child is absent from school in a timely manner.