Superintendent will consider change in absence notification system after Madeline Soto case

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Orange County Superintendent Dr. Maria Vazquez says Orange County staff are looking into how the school district can change their absence notification system in light of the death of 13-year-old Madeline Soto.


Vazquez told Channel 9 staff are considering notifying parents as early as the end of their first class of the day and wants to make changes “as soon as possible.”

The disappearance of 13-year-old Madeline Soto has highlighted what parents call a “major flaw” in the schools’ absence notification system.

Madeline’s mother, Jennifer, said she didn’t receive an automated message from OCPS, saying her daughter was absent until nearly 6 p.m. Feb. 26, ten hours after Madeline didn’t show up at Hunter’s Creek Middle School.

Read: 2 memorials continue to grow in honor of Madeline Soto

Currently, teachers’ deadline to submit attendance isn’t until 3:30 in the afternoon. The school district says parents aren’t typically notified until 5 p.m. that their child is absent.

Vazquez told Channel 9 this has been their system for the past 15 years.

Up until Tuesday, OCPS did not say if it would change its procedure.

“I don’t know what the use is of a 5 p.m. notification. I can’t name one use,” said Sarah Terrell, one of many parents asking Orange County Schools to notify parents earlier in the day that their child is absent.

Read: Madeline Soto: Story Jennifer Soto gave law enforcement doesn’t line up with what investigators know

Terrell started a petition Friday that has more than 11,000 signatures.

She said parents have yet to hear what the school district is doing.

“I’m feeling frustrated. I’m feeling disappointed. Because as a community, I think when you know better, you can do better,” Terrell said.

Channel 9 has tried to speak to the School District since Friday. We were told by the district Monday that Superintendent Vazquez and Orange County staff were unavailable to speak to us because of an impasse hearing set for Tuesday.

So, we stopped by that hearing to speak to Orange County officials. There, Vazquez confirmed the district is looking into changes and making them “as soon as possible.”

“Giving the parents an earlier warning that their child may have missed first period or second period,” Vazquez said. “We also are considering if then there would be an additional call out in the afternoon. So that will take care of any child that maybe was tardy, or the teacher didn’t have the opportunity to take attendance first thing in the class period.”

“Why do you feel notifying parents earlier is important,” Channel 9′s Ashlyn Webb asked.

“I do believe that this tragedy around our student has brought to light a manner in which we can help ensure children are safer,” Dr. Vazquez told Channel 9. “Because safety is my number one priority, anything that we can do in that arena we want to be able to explore. I think someone has said, you know, every second matters when a child is missing.”

Vazquez says the long-term goal is to create a Parent Portal where parents can check attendance as the teacher records it.

If Orange County does change its procedure to notify parents earlier in the day, this could follow other school districts in our area. Lake County notifies parents within two hours after their child is not present.

Absence Notification System procedures for Central Florida school district:

Lake County: Parents are notified within the first 1-2 hours of the school day if a child is absent in the morning. A second “end-of-day summary” automated call includes absences from afternoon class periods.

Seminole County: Absence notifications are sent during the school day; however, times will vary based on when the absence is reported and the number of notifications for absences in the queue. There is not a set time when the notification is sent.

Osceola County: Parents of elementary and middle school will get a notification about absences before noon. High School parents will get a notification starting at 5 p.m.

Brevard County: Parents of elementary schools are generally informed during the late morning. Parents of secondary students are generally informed during the late afternoon. The number of calls needed to be made can push notifications to elementary families into early afternoon and calls to secondary families into early evening.

Volusia County:  Attendance calls are sent out for elementary students starting around 10 a.m. Attendance calls are sent out for secondary students at the end of the school day once all attendance for each period has been recorded and updated, starting around 5 or 6 p.m.

Marion County: Did not respond.

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