Saturday, January 20, 2018
Education

Errant robocall from Pinellas schools gives parents a rude awakening

ST. PETERSBURG — The last day before the first day of school is supposed to be a final exercise of summer freedom, with an emphasis on sleeping in.

But a predawn phone call Sunday from the Pinellas County School District jolted hundreds of bleary-eyed parents out of bed with a one-minute recorded "welcome back" message from the superintendent.

Welcome back, indeed.

According to parents' Facebook posts and Twitter messages, their phones began ringing around 6 a.m. Those who answered woke up to the sound of superintendent Michael Grego's recorded voice reminding them that the county's public schools reopen today and encouraging them to talk to their children about their goals for the upcoming academic year.

A school district spokeswoman said Sunday that the robocalls, which the district pays California-based company SchoolMessenger to distribute, were intended to go out that evening instead.

Shortly after noon Sunday, the district sent out a second automated phone message to parents, apologizing for the wake-up calls.

"It certainly was not the district's intent for the call to be delivered at the time most families received it. The district apologizes for this unexpected disturbance and is investigating the reason for the error," spokeswoman Melanie Marquez Parra wrote in an email.

In the hours after the call, dozens of parents went online to make their complaints known. In Facebook posts filled with a sense of betrayal and laced with the occasional expletive, they commiserated with one another over losing what amounts to a national holiday, if an unnamed one. Some joked — or maybe not — about calling Grego's home in the wee hours of the morning.

"It was like the last day to sleep in, and it was a really rude awaking," said Barbara Walker, 48, who has two children in Pinellas schools.

At 6 a.m. her landline phone and cellphone began ringing one after the other, sending her scrambling out of bed, alarmed there might be an emergency.

In a daze, she answered, catching snippets of the recording.

"It was like in Charlie Brown," she said. "I heard blah, blah, blah."

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