John Adams Elementary School in Corona. Most of the 717 parents received a phone message last Thursday notifying them of their children’s absence.
Shane Reichardt was at a Banning City Council meeting on Thursday morning, Oct. 23, when a phone message started the clock on what he called “the longest eight minutes of my life.”
The call was from John Adams Elementary School in Corona, where his son, Drew, is a second-grader. The message noted that Drew was absent from school that day.
But he wasn’t absent, and eight minutes later, after Reichardt had bolted out of the meeting and ran to the parking lot for the 46-mile drive back to Corona, another call from the school arrived.
It was all a mistake.
Reichardt, 45, didn’t know at the time that most of the parents of the 717 students at John Adams had received the same computer-generated calls, the first one at 11:11 a.m. All he knew was that Drew had been missing for almost 2 1/2 hours.
He had left Drew with his childcare provider, who was to drop him off at school a little before 8 a.m. “At this point my concern increased exponentially.”
What happened, according to Evita Tapia-Gonzalez, spokeswoman for the Corona-Norco Unified School District, was an “inadvertent error” on the part of a school employee operating Blackboard Messaging, a broadcast messaging system used for communications.
“There is an option to send messages to a filtered group,” she said. “This one was sent to all parents.”
Before such messages are distributed, she said, “The software prompts you to reread and review what was sent and to whom. It was human error coupled with technology error.”
Shortly after the first phone call, several parents who live near the school arrived on campus to get more information. “Site administration immediately was available to offer their apologies to parents and answer questions,” Tapia-Gonzalez said.
One of the parents, Angel Lomeli, said, “I was scared to death.” Lomeli has four children attending John Adams and received a separate call about each.
But another parent, Susan Fonseca, said while she was concerned, she knew her daughter, Alexxi, a fifth-grader, was in class because Fonseca’s husband had dropped her off at school that morning.
Tapia-Gonzalez said in an email that the error has prompted changes at John Adams. “The school has developed a process that provides additional layers of review before messages are sent to parents,” she wrote.
Reichardt, who has a management position with the Riverside County Fire Department, was in Banning representing the department that morning. “I take safety and open communication very seriously,” he said. “The notification system in the school could play a vital role when something goes wrong. If the school can’t use it correctly on a good day, I have concerns about how they will function on a bad day.”
He added, “To tell a parent their child is unaccounted for could quite possibly be the scariest thing a parent could ever imagine. I hope they find a way to prevent it from happening (again).”