Four months after the death of Alianna DeFreeze, Cleveland mothers say the system to notify parents of a child’s absence still needs fixing.
Alianna’s body was found Jan. 29 in a vacant house in the 9400 block of Fuller Avenue by Cleveland police and Christopher Whitaker, 44, was charged with aggravated murder in connection with the death of the teen.
The 14-year-old failed to report to school on Jan. 26. Her biological mother, Donnesha Cooper, said she was never notified about the unexcused absence.
“I did not get a notification for my daughter at all, I happened to call myself and they said she never arrived,” Cooper said, who learned about her daughter's absence at 4 p.m. that day.
Replaying the scenario in her head, she wondered if the outcome would have changed had she known Alianna was missing sooner.
“Any different scenario and maybe we could have stopped it, we could have found her. I just, I feel like so much time was wasted,” she said.
That’s why Cooper was horrified to learn that more than four months after her daughter's tragic death, another Cleveland mom found herself in a similar spot.
McLinda White said she dropped her 14-year-old son off at school Wednesday at 7:30 a.m.
But her son David, who is a special needs student, never made it in the front door and wandered off alone.
White said it wasn’t until she came to pick him up at 2:35 p.m. that she was told he never showed up for class.
“They said he was marked absent and that was it,” White said.
She said school administrators helped her family and friends search for David. After four hours, a stranger spotted him walking by himself and had David use his cell phone to contact his mother.
“I was terrified,” White said.
The Cleveland Metropolitan School District has an automatic notification system that sends alerts to the phone numbers and emails provided by parents. Attendance information is entered daily (period-by-period in high schools) and that information rolls over into our parent notification system that alerts parents to a student's absence.But a CMSD spokesperson explained that often times that contact information is incomplete or is not up to date.
White has four other children in CMSD schools and she said she’s always gotten notifications when her other children are late or absent.
A spokesperson told News 5 that due to privacy rights, she could not comment specifically on student attendance or discipline issues.
“We also continue to be proactive in our efforts to remind parents to routinely update their contact information in our student information systems to ensure they get all CMSD phone, text and e-mail alerts, including notification of student absences,” a spokesperson said in a statement.
White is grateful that David was found safe.
She said she's now joining Cooper’s push for the “Alianna Alert,” a state law that would mandate public schools to place a telephone call within one hour of the star of the school day to a parent whose child is absent without a legitimate excuse.
“The child can be in another state by that time and you would never know,” Cooper said. “Or what happened to my daughter — you just don’t know if you don’t get the absolute soonest notification.”
Senate Bill 82 was introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives in early March. As of Thursday it had not received a hearing in committee.