Parents push for change to school absence notification procedure in light of Madeline Soto case

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — The disappearance of 13-year-old Madeline Soto has highlighted what parents call a “major flaw” in Orange County Public Schools’ notification system.


Madeline’s mother, Jennifer Soto, says she didn’t receive an automated message from OCPS saying her daughter was absent until nearly 6 p.m. on the day Madeline vanished, Feb. 26.

It was 10 hours after her daughter, Madeline, didn’t show up at Hunter’s Creek Middle School.

Jennifer said she received that automated call after she went to the school to try to pick up Madeline around 4:30 p.m.

Read: Madeline Soto’s body found in rural Osceola County

Sarah Terrell, the mom of a Hunter’s Creek Middle School student, is one of many Orange County parents asking Orange County Schools to notify parents earlier in the day that their child is absent.

Terrell started a petition Thursday that already has hundreds of signatures.

“I don’t think that it would be so horrible that I get a call at 10 or 11 a.m. that my student was absent. And maybe they were at the doctor, and maybe I dropped them off at noon. And I can then just ignore that call. Because I know my student is with me. I think that’s a far better scenario than the other way around,” Terrell told Eyewitness News.

Read: Osceola pastors console community after week-long search for Madeline Soto

Orange County Public Schools said their automated system notifies parents after the school day because the final cut-off for teachers to submit attendance is 3:30 p.m.

If a student misses at least half of a day, they are considered absent.

Once attendance is finalized in the system, the School District says a report is run, and later, guardians are notified their student was absent. Typically, parents are notified around 5 p.m.

Channel 9 checked with other school districts in Central Florida. Lake County Schools notifies guardians after a student is absent for at least one class. Some states, like Ohio, have laws on the books that require parents to be notified within two hours of a student’s absence.

Read: Madeline Soto: Community to hold prayer vigil tonight

“We have had quite a few emails from parents concerned about the current procedure that we have in Orange County,” said school board member Alicia Farrant. Farrant represents the district Hunter’s Creek Middle is in.

She says after news of Madeline’s disappearance Monday, she has received several emails and plans to discuss Orange County’s current procedure with the board.

“I can go to the board table and see if there is a procedure that we can change to help prevent things in the future,” Farrant said. “Although with something like this, I don’t know that this could have been prevented and we can’t live life in the what ifs.”

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