Robocaller dad gets revenge on school officials

Jan 14, 2011

Aaron Titus, a Prince George's County School District parent, will be online Friday, Jan. 14, at Noon ET to discuss his own robocalling plan in retaliation to officials who notified parents at 4:30 in the morning of school cancellation on a snow day.

This is Aaron Titus. Boy, I didn't expect to be here today.  Go ahead and shoot me your questions, and I'll do my best to answer!

Isn't there a way for parents to opt out of the system, other than unplugging the phone?

My first question was, "When did I sign up for this?"  I never signed up for robocalls. I have since learned that there is a number to call that you can opt out of ALL communications with the district.  But all or nothing seems like overkill.

I'm an Arlington County parent, and I don't get why PG County needs to do a robocall at any time. You can sign up for Arlington to send you a nice, quiet e-mail when school is canceled or delayed. Those who need to know early in the morning can check their e-mail or go to the county website or call a hotline for a recorded message. If you can't even opt out of the PG County robocall, that's particularly maddening.

Especially since I knew about the late school day, I was a little extra peeved when I had to wake up at 4:30 to hear a message that told me that I can sleep in...

Mr. Titus, don't you think you are carrying this a little far? If you don't like it, call the school and ask that they not call your number again. Problem solved.

Actually, for me it was a simple calculus: What tools are at my disposal which will allow me to deal with this problem most effectively?  I could throw myself against the Prince Georges County School district bureaucracy and write an angry letter or lodge an angry phone call... or I could do this.

This seemed like the more effective use of my time. It was also coincidentally more satisfying.

To answer your question directly, no. I don't think I carried this too far. I don't plan on doing this again, because it was effective.  Hopefully I made a few people smile and think, which is a victory.

However, I would agree that the national attention to this issue IS carrying it a little far.  I think I just struck a nerve with people.

Good for you, Aaron. Back in the early 80's when I was living on Mintwood Place in Adams-Morgan, there was a group of winos who used to serenade the world at 1:00 in the morning on the basketball court below. After repeated calls to the police had gotten nowhere, I finally out of desperation woke up Dave Clarke, the Ward 1 council rep, whose phone number was in the telephone book. His wife was steamed, but I figured that they ought to know what it's like when their city was so consistently unresponsive to requests for help. And within 10 minutes of making that call, the police showed up and chased the drunks away. Sometimes you have to be a little direct to get some action, and you did a masterful job of it. Congratulations from one who's been there and done that.

Thanks. And that was the whole point. I didn't want to get mad, I just wanted to be effective. And I think I succeeded. I'm sure that the PG County school district will not be making any more 4:30am calls. So as far as I'm concerned, it was a very effective use of my time.

The article mentions that as a lawyer Mr. Titus knows a thing or two about technology. But did you bother to know a thing or two about the law? As a lawyer myself I regularly counsel organizations on robocall issues. Federal law explicitly requires a person making an automated call to identify himself or herself at the beginning of the message and provide his or her address or phone number at the end. There are also time of day requirements. Before you came up with your plan or talked to the Post shouldn't you have done your due diligence and made sure your plan of vengeance was legal?

Yeah, probably. :-)

I figured that the school district was just following the Golden Rule, though: They were doing to me as they would have me do to them.

Perhaps I've got this wrong, but it sounds like this was a single case of the wrong time plugged into the robocall system, not a repeated offense. While lack of sleep and early awakenings are disturbing and can lead one to crazy thinking, you had time to think about the situation and yet chose to go with the juvenile approach. You could have made a phone call to learn why the call came so early, express your feelings, and see about opting out of the robocall system. Instead, you got clever and vindictive. While we all might like to fantasize about "getting back", it's pretty immature to actually follow through.

Well, you can call me "vindictive," "juvenile," "childish," or any other thing you want. I wouldn't call myself vindictive. Childish? Perhaps.  Posessing sleep-deprivation-induced creativity? Perhaps.

I was looking for something low-impact that would get my point across.  I didn't do it to "get back." I did it to make sure it wouldn't happen again. It was a low-impact way to make sure that PG County would re-think their robocall policy.

Aaron, Great job! Would like your take on the scourge of political robocalls and the lack of privacy that voters experience every election cycle at the hands of politicians and interest groups. I'd like to see someone do the same thing you did to politicians' home phones and family cell phones. You in? Shaun Dakin Founder - The National Political Do Not Contact Registry www.StopPoliticalCalls.org

Well, I can't say that this is a call to arms or anything. I try to assume the best about my elected leaders, which is why I assumed that they were following the golden rule. I'm sure they didn't mind too much...

And Shaun Dakin at StopPoliticalCalls.org does great work.

Md. father uses robocall to get revenge on school officials

Do you have any regrets about your actions of getting revenge. I must say that lawyers don't always have a good reputation and we don't need them getting negative publicity by seeking revenge. There are better ways to fix what is broken than trying to get even for another's mistake.

This wasn't about revenge, it was about effectiveness.  Calling the district is decidedly LESS effective.  Mirroring the district's behavior was far MORE effective.

As a side effect, it also happened to be far more satisfying.

What was the one school board member's gripe about caller ID? This wasn't clear in the Post story and I want all the juicy details...

I'm not entirely sure. I tried to make the caller  ID read "PG County Parent." But apparently it didn't work.

This is my first (and hopefully last) time robocalling, so I may have not placed a setting correctly.

I think the schools get blamed when they send out too much information and when they don't send out enough. They can never seem to get it just right. I know I got a few robo-calls from the schools after my students had graduated. It seems they hadn't purged the list from the previous year. But, then again, if they had, I am sure someone would complain they need to register for alert messages every year.

Being a school administrator is a thankless job. While I personally believe that the world would be better if robocalls ceased to exist, I also recognize that some parents lack internet access, and robo calls are the only way to contact them.

My gripe isn't with robocalls in general... just robocalls at 4:30am.

While you may think your little prank was cute, I feel that it was childish and in poor taste. I received the original robocall about the shool cancellation and was glad to get it. While many people may be high-fiving you, I think you should be ashamed! Not everyone has access to internet. I don't.

I'm glad you enjoyed the 4:30am call. I was pretty sure that there are at least 3 parents in the school district who like phone calls at that time in the morning.  But for the rest of us, robocalls might be helpful, but they're more annoying than informative at 4:30am.  A little later would have been much better.

Geez.

My thoughts exactly.

I also have to wonder, "Why is this news?  This is silly.  It was supposed to be silly."

I live in one of the outlying counties, and often the D.C. radio stations can't be bothered with our system's status. Our calls arrive at 5:30 a.m. which seems like a more reasonable time based on my family's schedule. Apparently our county's school system uses an opt-in system instead, with other options for text or e-mail. Wouldn't that be a more reasonable alternative?

Yes, I think an opt-in system would be great.  If you have to wake up at 4:30am to walk the dog, then sign up for robocalls at 4:30!

An opt-in or opt-out option would be great in a situation like this.

Looks to me like a bunch of those commenting on you are not fans of you. There is one guy who says he's already filed a bar complaint, and there is talk even here of you breaking federal law. Does this cause you to rethink at all?

There is very little in life I take seriously, least of all, myself. I'd actually prefer to think about my full-time job right now.

School snow days were a pretty recent thing for me so I don't think I would have minded too much. Now my parents on the other hand... However, ever since moving to the West Coast I'll get wrong calls, telemarketers at the wee hours of the morning so I know how aggravating that can be. Good for making the school district think. And thanks for the laugh.

Well, I'm glad I could make you smile (and think). That was the whole point. And hopefully the school district doesn't hate me for the rest of my life.

People, lighten up! After days of following the tragic news from Tucson, this article reprinted in the Seattle Times - yes, Mr. Titus, you make it all the way to the Pacific NW - makes me chuckle. Thanks for lending a bit of levity to tonight's dinner conservation.

Although I agree, part of me wonders why this is news at all.  This is frankly a non-story as far as I'm concerned. There are much more important issues to focus on in this world. This was a silly response to a silly phone call.

FYI, this was NOT a one-time incident. This was the second time my wife and I have received the 4:00 a.m. wake up call from the county. We placed many calls to opt out but not a single school official had a clue. Good for you Aaron.

Thanks. Apparently the previous angry phone calls didn't do the trick, so hopefully this will make a difference.  With any luck, it will be the last 4am phone call.

I've asked that my name be removed from the Montgomery County list multiple times, because I get the e-mails that say the EXACT same thing as their robocalls, and I much prefer them. You've given me food for thought, although if I'm patient enough I might just give my Google Voice number to the school system next year, so I can choose when it will ring my phones and when it will not. You should try it, it's great for dealing with e-tailers.

Using Google Voice to scren phone calls is great.  Unfortunately, I can never tell when a phone call is actually going to be important.  Occasionally the school district calls me with useful information. I just would prefer not to get it at 4:30 am.

But this isn't the only way! Why not set it up so that those who are uncertain CALL IN to a recorded message? That's how they do it in Arlington, and I sure haven't heard anyone clamoring for robocalls.

There are lots of ways to get information to parents. I know that there is no silver bullet, though.  I happen to use the internet... but not all parents have access to the internet.  Some people prefer text messages, but others never check their phone.  So I understand the need for multiple contact strategies.

The school district should just make sure to use the contact methods in a reasonable manner.

Um, there's this thing called TV and radio. Back in the day, no one expected the schools to reach them personally to announce a closure. The schools told parents which media outlets to monitor for announcements of snow days, and people tuned in. If there are kids whose parents have no access to media at all, I bet they're not attending public school...

School districts have the thankless job of trying to reach out to as many parents as possible, using as many media as possible. I recognize that it's hard.

Hopefully now PG County Schools know that robocalls at 4:30 in the morning are out-of bounds.  I'm sure it won't happen again.

Obviously, you spoke with a reporter...so you made it news!! So, stop wondering why it is news.

Good point. But I didn't expect it to take on a life of it's own. Perhaps I was a little naive.

I thought your response was clever, theatrical and most importantly, effective. And it seems those you called weren't upset or miffed--they took what they needed from the message and even applauded you. I don't have the slightest idea why there are so many cranks--I suspect they're annoyed they hadn't thought of such an effective gambit--but I think you channeled your annoyance perfectly. Well done.

Thank you. Yes, you'll notice that the robo call doesn't contain a single bad word, or even a "jerk."  I said what I meant, and there's no need to be angry when you can say what you mean.

We have a neighbor who starts his motorcycle every morning around that time. The noise only lasts a few seconds - until he passes our home - but that is all it takes. Earplugs, a large loud fan... nothing covers the horrible sound. Any thoughts on that one?

That would be great, except that I have five small children.  And I can't ignore them.

Thanks for the questions.  Hopefully I haven't permanently damaged my children's hopes of getting an education in PG County :-)

In any case, I'm glad I could share a few laughs.

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Aaron Titus
Aaron Titus is a father of five children and also a lawyer.
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