School board reinforces absence notification policy in wake of teen’s abduction

School board reinforces absence notification policy in wake of teen’s abduction

After an incident in which a student’s disappearance went unreported for hours, the Toronto District School Board has told staff that parents and guardians must be notified “no later than 75 minutes” after the start of school if a child is absent.

“As we have witnessed in the events that unfolded last week, delays in taking and reporting attendance can have serious consequences for student safety,” director of education John Malloy wrote Monday in an emailed message to families of secondary school students.

“In the weeks ahead, we will be reviewing the TDSB’s student attendance and safe arrival procedures to determine how the procedures can be further strengthened and will be working with schools to better understand current practices as part of this process,” wrote Malloy.

The email follows an incident in which a 14-year-old Grade 9 male student failed to arrive at Newtonbrook Secondary School last Wednesday after he was seen being forced into an SUV near his home.

The school did not issue a morning absence alert and only informed the boy’s parents after 6 p.m. that he had not shown up that day. An Amber Alert was issued around midnight, and the teen was discovered “dishevelled” but safe on Thursday night. Police have yet to make arrests, but said the boy’s stepbrother owed a large debt in relation to a cocaine ring.

In his email to parents, Molloy said principals, teachers and office staff have all been reminded of the importance of the procedures and that he expects parents and guardians to be “alerted as soon as possible if your child has not arrived at school in the morning.”

Four school staff members, including more than one teacher, remain on home assignment pending the results of an internal investigation, TDSB spokesperson Ryan Bird said in a phone interview Monday evening.

Bird said an internal review of procedures is underway and almost complete.

“We determined that a number of schools have different times when those first (absence) calls go out to report students absent,” said Bird. “Bottom line, we have always had procedures that require teachers to submit attendance and for the calls to go to notify parents.

“But what we realized after last week was that there are varying times of when those calls go out. So when we learned that, that’s when we began, we’ve, as we’ve laid out to parents, and we’ve laid out to staff, that it’s our expectation that those first calls should go out no later than 75 minutes after the start of school.”

The protocols are in place for all schools, said Bird, but there seemed to be “some room for interpretation,” thus the new 75 minute limit.

Bird said “a number of our schools are using different times and that’s why we set up the expectations. He said the board hopes to wrap up its internal investigation “in the very near future.”

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