CLEVELAND, Ohio-- The murder of 14 year-old Alianna Defreeze is prompting calls for a new state law that would require school districts to notify parents if their child is absent.
Under current law, schools can decide on their own whether and how they notify parents if a child doesn’t come to school.
According to a police report, Alianna’s mother reported walking her to an RTA bus stop at 6:30 a.m. on January 26. Nearly ten hours passed before she learned Alianna never made it to her charter school, E Prep & Village Prep Woodland Hills, when she called to cancel a parent teacher conference, according to the report.
Three days later, on Sunday, police found Alianna’s body in a vacant home on Fuller Avenue, a half mile away from the school.
“So many hours passed that something could've been done in the meantime, looking for her or looking for the perpetrator,” said Keisha Taylor, a Cleveland Heights mom who heard about Alianna’s story in the news.
She doesn’t know the family but still felt motivated to create a change.org petition calling for a law requiring parental notification of absences, or an “Alianna Alert.”
“Here you think your child is safe in school all day, and to find out she never even made it; I just thought something can be done about this,” she said. “There needs to be policy across the board; you can't place blame where there is no policy.”
State Senator Sandra Williams, who represents District 21 where Alianna went missing, started the process of drafting a law Friday.
“I just feel that we have to do something,” she said. “Some parents have to go to work early so they don't have the opportunity to take their child to school or walk their child to school. If your child has to go by themselves and they don't show up, this could be a first step to helping the parent take action before something happens.”
A spokesperson for E Prep & Village Prep Woodland Hills, a member of Breakthrough Schools, said a software issue prevented an automatic notification from being delivered to Alianna’s mother.
“We were absolutely heartbroken to discover an error that led to a delay in notifying Alianna's mother of her absence,” the school said in a statement. “Ensuring every component of our notification system is working is our top priority. We are making manual attendance calls until we have full confidence the issue has been corrected.”
Williams said the specifics of the proposed law have yet to be worked out, but it could include a component requiring confirmation that the notification was sent successfully.
She said she hopes the law can find bipartisan support, calling this an issue that can affect children in any community.