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Posted at 3:52 PM ET, 01/14/2011

Robocall revenge--the postscript

By Washington Post editors

Update at 5:20 p.m.:
Editor's note: Titus reports receiving inquiries from "Fox, NBC, CBS, MSNBC, a ton of local affiliates.  Good Morning America is stopping by in about 40 minutes. I’ve got the Early Show tomorrow morning, followed by Fox and Friends." There was no immediate word on whether any of these appearances will require him to be up before 4:30 a.m.


Here is a postscript from my colleague Donna St. George to a front-page story she wrote today that has gotten a lot of buzz:

Aaron Titus was awakened from his sleep at 4:30 a.m. Wednesday by a robocall from the Prince George's County school system, letting him know it was a snow day and that schools would open two hours late. Titus already knew this because it had been posted online the night before, and he was annoyed to get yet another too-early call from the school system. His five children, ages 5 and under, including a one-week-old baby, were still sleeping, and he wanted to keep it that way.

So, for the next morning, the 31-year-old Fort Washington dad arranged his own robocall--to the members of the school board, as well as the superintendent and general counsel. All were called at 4:30 a.m. Thursday with an automated message from a Prince George's County School District parent, "to return the favor." He said in the message that he hoped the jarring wake-up call would "demonstrate why a 4:30 a.m. call does more to annoy than to inform."

The Post published the story Friday, and it quickly became an online hit, with hundreds of comments and readers divided about whether Titus was an "everyday hero" or a crank who had gone too far. Titus agreed to do a chat for The Post. The chat started: "This is Aaron Titus. Boy, I didn't expect to be here today."

Not long after the story was published, television shows came looking for Titus, including MSNBC and ABC's "Good Morning America."

Readers weighed in. One from Missouri noted that her school system in Clayton allows parents to "opt out" of robocalls, but families must renew the decision every school year. She recently realized she had forgotten to do so -- after she was awakened at an hour too early for her liking: 5:30 am. "My fault," she said. She advises Washington-area school leaders: "The technology to do the opt-out is apparently not hard to implement."

By Washington Post editors  | January 14, 2011; 3:52 PM ET
 
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Comments

I don't know the solution. There are people, in rural areas, at the edges of large districts, or with irregular job hours who need to know by 4:30 if school is closed. And I would guess that not just parents were notified--the bus drivers, custodians, etc., are probably on the same calling system, and they need to know early that they don't need to come in. When my mother was teaching, a decision was made too late--the call arrived as she was turning onto the road on her way to work. My neighbor, who doesn't speak English, walks her boys to school every morning and hopes if the school is closed or delayed someone living near the school will see her and tell her, because her English isn't good enough to understand an automated phone call. The closings are also run as a crawl at the bottom of the television, but I don't know if she reads English quickly enough to recognize that. My guess is that for every Aaron Titus who didn't want to be awakened, there is someone who, if the call had been delayed until, say 5:30, would have had the kids out the door already.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 14, 2011 4:44 PM | Report abuse

I'm with Mr. Titus on this one. I hate early morning/late night calls. I don't make them myself. I also hate the autocalls from the schools! Use the media to confirm school closings, late start times, etc.
I was raised with the notion of the phone is for the convenience person receiving the call, not for the caller. When I was growing up, the phone wasn't answered unless it was convenient for us. My dad had strict rules and there were times he'd turn off the ringer (he worked for the phone company) and enjoyed the peace. I screen all my calls and many times I just unplug the phone when I want peace and quiet as well. My calls still go to voice mail and I return them later.

Posted by: kodonivan | January 14, 2011 6:43 PM | Report abuse

Why is it WE have to OPT OUT?

Shouldn't THEY GET OUR PERMISSION before they subject us to harassing phone calls which are usually about nothing we are involved in? Anything relevant to me is told to me by my child when they get home from school and anything news worthy is told on the tv and/radio news.

Who in their right minds thinks that unsolicited automated calls are a good thing? Might be if they asked you first and you could designate what type of information you wanted otherwise it is just spam on the phone.

Posted by: zoverstree | January 15, 2011 9:24 AM | Report abuse

To zoverstree: You write, "Anything relevant to me is told to me by my child when they get home from school and anything news worthy is told on the tv and/radio news."

What planet are you living on? Your kids tell you anything they happen to remember or anything that makes them look good. Several years ago one of the counties around Washington decided to warn parents about possible water contamination by sending notices home with the school children; only a handful of parents ever saw the notices.

In my locality, the local news television stations announce closings by running a "crawl" at the bottom of the screen--inaccessible to anyone with vision or literacy problems or, often, with hearing problems, since the crawl is under the captioning.

I agree that a 4:30 phone call is irritating, but I'm not sure there is a good way to notify people.

Posted by: sideswiththekids | January 15, 2011 9:35 AM | Report abuse

best comment I saw on the original story was:

"You can contact me anytime when it comes to the safety of my kids"

Right On.

But one should also truly appreciate the school system alerting parents such as myself that have challenging schedules in the morning as well. Many parents multiple children and varying bus schedules.

Many commuters have to be on the road and at various hours in the a.m. to go to work. By 5 am parents knew what they needed to do to make arrangments for their kids and the need (if necessary) to contact their employers as early as 7 am.

If Mr. Titus doesn't want to receive calls all he needed to do is contact his school. Forms are circulated at the beginning of each year to opt out of robocalls as well.

Hopefully Mr. Titus' issue doesn't disrupt a public service/courtesy provided by PGCPS that some, if not most, parents do appreciate.

Posted by: PGCResident1 | January 15, 2011 10:27 AM | Report abuse

What I don't like about robocalls from Seattle Public Schools is that they are mono-directional. When the "superintendent has a message for our families", I'd like an opportunity to send a message back to our superintendent and not necessarily a reply to the topic of her message. When the "principal has a message for our families, I'd like an opportunity to send a message to the principal - again, not necessarily a reply to the topic of his message. This would be a great way for the school and the district to stay in touch with the families. Just push the pound button to send a message back or something like that. Unless that is they actually don't want to keep a pulse on their families and monologues are what they have in mind as "the community engagement piece".

Posted by: KateMartin | January 15, 2011 4:16 PM | Report abuse

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