Nearly a month after the school year started and schools sent out notices reminding parents to fill out cards listing emergency day-time contacts for their children, fewer than half of the cards for middle- and high-school students have been completed.
As of Thursday afternoon, 12,761 completed forms — which represents 45 percent of the students — had been filed, school spokeswoman Rebecca Amani-Dove said.
That means the schools have no emergency contacts for 55 percent of the students in county middle and high schools. While the schools have "several layers of contacts" for the students' parents, Amani-Dove said, the emergency cards include information on who to contact if the parents are unavailable — grandparents, aunts, uncles, family friends, etc.
The cards must be filled out every year, but this is the first year they are being filled out electronically through Aspen, the online portal parents use to access their students' grades and communicate with teachers and the school.
While it is unclear how this year's percentage compares to years past, schools have emailed parents this week urging them to complete the form and calling the lack of emergency cards "critical."
In an email sent Thursday to parents of Howard High students, for example, Howard High officials wrote: "As of today we have over 900 students without emergency information in the HCPSS Family Portal. Without this information, the school will have no means of getting in touch with parents and guardians should an emergency occur. This is a critical situation."
Emails from several schools noted, "Without this information, the school will have no means of getting in touch with parents and guardians should an emergency occur."
The email from Folly Quarter Middle School in Ellicott City read: "Please understand, this information is critical to the safety of your child."
Meanwhile, the PTA Council of Howard County is also echoing the importance of filling out the cards, and is asking local PTAs to remind parents to do so.
"No one wants to think that there's going to be an emergency involving their child," said PTA Council President Christina Delmont-Small. "But, if something does happen at school you want to make sure the school has up-to-date information."
Introduced last year, Aspen is only used at the secondary level; elementary schools have yet to roll out the program, and are still using hard copies of the emergency procedure cards.
In the past, Amani-Dove said, the emergency procedure cards have been physical cards, stored at each school.
"This is one way we're moving away from paper to electronic," Amani-Dove said. "By doing that, we reduce paperwork and make it easier for parents to update information. There's less opportunity for error when they're entering the data directly in the system."
Some families have opted out of the online portal, Amani-Dove said, and hard copies of the emergency cards are kept for those students.
Parents were first informed of the online transition when a letter was sent out on Aug. 22, a few days before school started, Amani-Dove said. Another letter was sent Sept. 7 to the families who hadn't yet responded.
Individual schools have also sent out emails to parents and organized information sessions at back-to-school nights. Amani-Dove also said schools were sending home physical copies of the form to parents this week.
"This is a new process, and a lot of information goes out to parents at the beginning of the school year," she said. "It could be they haven't gotten around to it, but it's speculation at this point.
"A lot of parents have signed up (for Aspen) ... but for the parents who don't have easy access to the Internet, we still have paper processes as well."