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Automated phone system gets ‘F’ on flunk notices

SHARE Automated phone system gets ‘F’ on flunk notices

SEATTLE — It was worse than a bill collector; worse than a telemarketer; worse, even, than a heavy breather:

"Your student has failed one or more core classes this year," a recorded voice told hundreds of unsuspecting parents of Edmonds-Woodway High School students earlier this week.

"We strongly recommend that your student enroll in summer school to make up the lost credit."

The vacation plans that consequently hung in the balance and the scoldings that undoubtedly resulted were, as it turns out, almost all for naught: Most of the 500 or so phone calls went to parents whose kids had not failed, school officials said Friday.

"This was a real mess-up," Principal Alan Weiss said. "We were trying to do a good thing."

School officials wanted to inform parents quickly that their children didn't pass required classes.

An automated phone call, they figured, would save parents from having to wait for report cards to arrive by mail.

But for some reason, the automated system called the homes of students who had received D's or "no credits," in addition to students who had failed.

"It was unnerving," said Susie, the mother of a student who got a D in Spanish. She didn't want her last name used. "Especially when it's a recording and you're not able to get a question in there of 'What? What are you talking about?' "

Weiss said he didn't know how the mistake happened, but officials apologized profusely when the calls started pouring in the next day and sent out a mea culpa by mail, too.

"In our desire to get needed information to students, we tried a new method of communicating which went awry," it read.

Apparently, some parents weren't just miffed about the content of the message.

"We understand that some individuals thought the recorded message sounded borderline rude," the note said. "Please know that in no way did we intend to offend anyone in any way."

Nevertheless, Weiss said, parents generally were understanding once they learned it was a mistake. The school has used the system for many other purposes, such as informing parents when their children are absent from a class.

But for a failing grade, "I really think a personal call is warranted," Susie's husband said. "We were all floating nicely into summer when we got this call."