Tragically, a 14 year old girl, Alianna DeFreeze, was murdered in Cleveland after being abducted on the way to her charter school. She was thought to have been abducted while switching from the first public transportation bus to the second public transportation required to get to her charter school. Despite her absence from school, there was no notification from the school to her parents informing them of their child’s absence until 4:15 in the afternoon, when her mother called the school to inquire on a meeting. According to the charter school administrators, the school system’s notification system “wasn’t working that day.” If you know the system was not working, why not pick up the phone yourself and make the call?
The incident has prompted a state lawmaker review of absentee notifications for schools, and ultimately, Senate Bill 82, nicknamed “Alianna Alert,” was introduced. If passed, the bill would place a requirement on schools to notify parents within 60 minutes of learning that a student expected to be at school did not arrive.
Of course, there was some concern over not being able to comply with the 60 minute window, which was voiced by State Senator Gayle Manning; however, State Senator Sandra Williams highlighted two school corporations who already have effective procedures in place to notify individuals of the absence within 10 and 30 minutes, respectively.
While the prompt notification of an unexplained absence to parents or guardians is necessary (and should have already been required), the larger issue is the transportation requirements for Ohio schools. A prompt notification of a student’s absence would have increased the probability of locating Alianna prior to her tragic murder, but she still would have been in the same dangerous situation (i.e already abducted due to the transportation situation) with regards to her daily commute to school.
Per Ohio Law, schools are only required to provide transportation to students who are registered in kindergarten through eighth grade, and there lies the biggest problem. Like most states, Ohio doesn’t grant a probationary driver’s license until the age of 16, which typically puts a student in grade 10 before they can drive without an adult, but the school corporations can halt transportation at grade 8, which is typically age 13 or 14. The result? Students may be forced to utilize public transportation, which obviously is not the safest means of transportation for an unaccompanied 13 or 14 year old. And there lies the problem with the “Alianna Alert” bill. Certainly, changes need to be made, and the required notifications of absences purposed by the bill is great step. But the main part of the risk, the method of transportation, will still continue to be an issue.