New law on student absences goes into effect

The murder of a 14-year-old girl in Cleveland two years ago prompted the Ohio Legislature to spell out the actions that schools are required to take when students don’t show up for class.

Called “Alliana’s Law,” Senate Bill 82 enacts a statutory requirement for schools to notify parents, guardians or caretakers within 120 minutes of the start of school if their student is unexpectedly absent.

The Cleveland student, Alliana DeFreeze, was abducted while walking to school from a public transit bus stop. Her body was found several days later in an abandoned house. The man convicted of abducting and killing her, Christopher Whitacre, was sentenced to death in January.

The DeFreeze family filed several wrongful death lawsuits, including one against the Cleveland Municipal School District, in which they allege that the district failed to notify them when Alliana did not show up for school and that if they had been notified, her death might have been prevented. The family in her memory has established a foundation, the goals of which include provision of safe transportation for children of indigent families. demolition of condemned structures and addressing the difficulties of domestic violence, homelessness and police-community relations.

Although the notification rule for schools has now become a statutory requirement, schools in Washington County already have policies governing it and systems in place.

Marietta City Schools Superintendent Will Hampton said the district has a detailed notification rule in place.

“We have a system in our robo-calling, we can track who’s being called, whether a number is not in service,” he said. “This spurred us to make sure we have the proper contact information. We often use meetings with parents to update any information that’s needed.”

Hampton said there are some students whose parents or guardians might not have telephones, but the district makes sure to have contact information for someone affiliated with the student who can be reached.

“Our biggest challenge is when telephone numbers change and we’re not notified,” he said. “Our teachers do a good job of reporting absences, they do a good job of keeping track of our kids.”

Brian Williams, principal of Newport Elementary School, said it always becomes clear very quickly in the morning if any students are missing without prior notification.

“Within 30 minutes or an hour, we’ve taken attendance and we know if any kids aren’t here who are supposed to be,” he said.

Attorney Craig Pelini, whose law firm represents Marietta City Schools, said on Friday that the new requirements shouldn’t expose districts to additional liability.

“As long as they’re in compliance, in practicality it shouldn’t affect them,” he said. “I think (the law) is probably a good thing because not every school district throughout the state is on top of these things. Will (Hampton) is a proactive guy and he’s out in front of curve on things.”

Alliana’s Law

•Senate Bill 82, effective April 5.

•Requires schools to notify parents, guardians or another person having care of any student who has an unexcused or unexpected absence from school within 120 minutes of the start of school.

•Named for a 14-year-old girl who was murdered in Cleveland in 2017 after being abducted on her way to school.

COMMENTS