US Public Schools Add SMS Notifications

Last winter was particularly difficult in many parts of the country. As a result, two school districts are adding bulk SMS notifications this year to help keep parents better informed.

In Durham, North Carolina, responses have already been positive, with 4,000 numbers already registered in just a few weeks.

Durham Public Schools representative Chrissy Deal told The Durham Herald Sun the story that finally provoked the school district to launch the new system: a local high school student's father dropped his son off at his regular bus stop, but the bus never came. The student waited in the snowy weather for some time before walking home.

The district had canceled school that day. Administrators distributed the news to local media and sent automated messages to parents' landlines. In the early morning rush, however, the family missed the call. When the child's father found out what had happened, he was furious and called the school.

"I realized from a district standpoint, we don't want kids standing on bus stops waiting for a bus that never come," Deal said. "It was a totally understandable complaint and it stuck with me."

Deal said that the new system "is a more convenient for parents to receive urgent information," as it will go directly to them.

The Racine, Wisconsin Unified School District is starting a similar policy. The district is automatically sending out opt-in messages to parents or guardians who have a cell phone listed as their primary point of contact. Others can go online and elect to sign up for the service.

Both new systems will primarily be used for notifications of closures due to inclement weather, but will also be, used as needed for other school emergencies. Racine's system will sent out the same texts in Spanish per request.