Monday, March 27, 2017

The Payne Family:Lincoln Public Schools Continues Sending Sick Children to the County Attorney

What began as a normal school year for my daughter quickly turned into a nightmare.  My daughter began having stomachaches in August and from August 2015 to November 2015 we ended up in the emergency room on four occasions.  Six weeks after school started I had numerous phone visits with the school social worker and weekly emails with an administrator as well as requesting homework for Hannah to work on at home.  (Little did we know at the time that my daughter would be diagnosed with eosinophilic gastritis, a rare disease and usually lifelong and subsequent diagnoses of polycystic ovary syndrome, irritable bowel syndrome, and possible endometriosis.).  In December we had a meeting at the school with four personnel from school about a collaborative plan.   At this time, Hannah had kept up with 6 of her 7 classes and was receiving A’s and B’s in her classes.  Clearly she was doing well even amidst the absences.  29 absences were acquired by December 22nd and even though we had 20 M.D. notes between October and January, we were referred to the County Attorney for truancy. 

Our first court appearance was in March 2016 where my daughter was placed on probation and given a court appointed public defender.  We had four court dates we had to appear for between March and September 2016.  My daughter was given a probation officer  who “recommended” to the court in May that my daughter go to summer school, see a psychologist weekly, and have a tracker from Cedars.  As part of that recommendation this all became court ordered.  Anytime my daughter was going to miss school (which was weekly), I had to inform the probation officer.  When my daughter was too ill to attend summer school and acquired 5 absences she was declined from attending summer school.  The probation officer then required my daughter to attend day reporting at Owens.  I was very strongly opposed to this.  It is a facility where troubled teens go to be “monitored” Monday through Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.  She was being mingled with teens that were required to wear ankle monitors and talked about smoking, illicit behaviors, etc.  Only 6 absences before you are dropped from the program and my daughter due to her illness missed that many days and was not allowed to attend.  The next thing that was suggested was that she apply for a job to stay busy and stay out of trouble and so they would “know where she was.”  Are you kidding me?  My daughter could not attend summer school due to illness, how was she going to hold down a job?

The probation officer, the judge, the county attorney and day reporting personnel all treated my daughter like she was a “bad student,” “troubled teen.”   For a young girl what message does this send?  If I was this stressed about this entire situation, just imagine the stress my daughter was placed in which I believe only exacerbated her illness.  The probation officer was suspicious of her from day one.  She left us on the defensive all the time.  The County attorney would glare at us in court hearings.  The Owens Day intake reporter and leader was somewhat crude in his explanations, using slang, and asking my daughter all sorts of questions encompassing behaviors my daughter has never engaged in.  

In June 2016, I emailed the probation officer stating this was all wrong and that my daughter was not skipping school nor was she a bad person running around doing illicit behaviors, she was home ill and bedridden.

From June to October 2016, we averaged two appointments per week between seeing a physician and psychologist.  For the first month of the Cedars tracker we had to meet daily M-F.  In this mix of appointments we still had a once a month probation meeting.  In the second month, we were still meeting with the Cedars tracker at least 2 to 3 times a week.  We were asked by the judge to go visit Bryan Behavioral School for a possible placement.  All of these visits needed to be managed while my daughter was feeling ill and while I am still trying to hold down a full time job to provide for my two daughters and me.  I used a lot of sick leave to take my daughter to her appointments.  I cannot tell you the amount of stress placed on both of us and how horrific the stress is for a single mother worrying about her ill child.  The system took precious time away from me caring more for my daughter because we were required to comply with court ordered appointments.  We were threatened if we did not comply with court orders of attendance and appointments they would place Hannah out of the home. 

Our physician, who treated my daughter for her diagnosis, wrote a letter to the court in August 2016 about her rare disease and even then the judge did not drop the case.

From January 2016 to January 2017, we had 4 court hearings, were seen in the emergency room for 8 visits, 60 physician related appointments, tests, and I used over 78 hours of sick leave from work as well as self-employment work missed opportunities during the summer due to appointments as noted above. 

I was not aware of the amended truancy law that was in place until recently, nor was I informed that there was an amended law during these entire proceedings by anyone at school, the public defender, county attorney, nor judge.  At present, my daughter is still on probation and will remain so until March, 2017.  

Cindy Payne, LPS parent
March, 2017

Wednesday, July 1, 2015

An OPS Parent Responds to Omaha World-Herald Editorial

The following article was written by OPS parent Gina Miller in response to the Omaha World-Herald's editorial published on June 28.  The editorial can be read by clicking this link:

This is an interesting editorial.   I do believe OPS overall is taking the “right road” but I have some concerns with this editorial.

  1. The subtitle is “It is a credit to the Superintendent’s vision, leadership, and willingness to be an agent of change."   This subtitle would lead one to believe that the changes mentioned in this article lay squarely at the feet of Mr. Evans.   I would challenge that the changes listed in this editorial lay squarely at the feet of an extremely hard working, engaged, passionate school board and those changes have been implemented effectively by Mr. Evans, OPS staff, and classroom teachers.  

  1. Let’s look at the achievements mentioned.  The first four bullet points lay out specific rates which have been rising over the last 3 – 4 years.   That is great but Mr. Evans has only been in his position for the last 2 years.  How do test scores and academic performance increase?  Yes, leadership and a clear mission is important, but it is the magic that happens every day in the classroom by motivated, innovative, passionate teachers and engaged kids.   I find it disheartening that once again we have an article talking about all of the achievements of a district without mentioning the classroom teacher.  

  1. The editorial mentions the “Public’s resounding endorsement at the ballot box last fall” with the passing of the bond.  Let us remember that the first referendum the public did was a year before that, to shrink the board size and vote in a new board.   The public said loud and clear that we were done with a top down leadership approach of previous administrations and that we no longer wanted a rubber stamp board.  The public (parents, teachers, taxpayers, community interests) wants a voice at the table. 

  1. The editorial mentions possible divisiveness on the OPS board.  “OPS board members need to pursue a common constructive, collaborative approach”.   I challenge this author that the board and superintendent need to follow this advice with the public.   I also challenge this author that I do not want a rubber stamp vote on agenda items.  I want to hear debate and concerns from my board members and watch them work through issues.  I want my board member to represent his or her constituents. 

  1. I find it disheartening that once again we are talking about how “administration” is doing all of these great things and no mention of the hard work that classroom teachers, parents and the kids have been doing.  There would have been no bond if not for the teachers and parents hitting the streets and supporting this effort.  There would not be any increases in student achievement if it weren’t for the efforts of classroom teachers and the kids. 

  1. OPS IS on the move and heading in the right direction because of a lot of hard work from EVERYONE.   But the last two years have not been without controversy.
       a.  Some leadership that still doesn’t seem to understand that parents deserve and want a voice at the table, not just sometimes but for all critical issues. 
       b.  A very controversial vote taken about extending the school day without notification or  consideration of parental or teacher input.
       c.  Questions about teacher contract negotiations done in bad faith by the administration.
       d.  A student death at Nathan Hale that from all accounts put the family last in the communication process.
       e.  A parent harassed and threatened for participating in public comment to the board.
       f.  Sanctions after OPS doesn’t meet federal regulations regarding suspension rates and a lack of communication by the administration to the board.
       g.  Busing and student assignment issues that still have not been addressed.
       h.  Public concerns with SRO’s that have not been addressed, although another school year is about to begin.

There has been a lot of work done and there is a lot of work left to do. I have been impressed with the OPS board but there are some warning signs that we all need to be taking note of.  The more administration and the board move forward on critical issues without public input, the more chance there is that we move back to the error of top down management that we fought so hard to eliminate.  I challenge this board and this administration to continue to collaborate with parents, the community, and teachers.   We don’t move forward unless ALL of the stakeholders are at the table and have a voice.  

Tuesday, June 23, 2015


The following post was written by Gina Miller, an OPS parent who is actively engaged with her children's schools and the Omaha Public School Board.  In spite of her ongoing communication with the board, Gina was one of thousands of parents and teachers who were completely blindsided by the board's vote last week to extend the school day, which takes already overstressed children away from their families, their rest, and their enriching activities for an even longer period of time.


It is time to have a discussion about national education movements that are sweeping the nation and having a direct effect on our children and families.

I am tired of our PUBLIC schools telling parents what is right for my child with NO input from the parent. I am tired of our individual school districts and states hopping on any National Ed Reform Bandwagon that comes along with little to NO research for its effectiveness. 

My long standing position has been that I am against an extended learning day and taking any more time away from my family and adding more to my already overstressed kids. I would have liked to have an opportunity to hear from OPS administration on why they feel this is necessary or a good idea. I may have changed my mind!

I have appreciated the other opportunities I have been given to give input and hear feedback and to make an informed decision. So now I will DEMAND to have my voice heard since they seem to have decided it was not necessary in the first place.

I feel the OPS board did a great disservice to its parents and its teachers by ramming an ill conceived plan to extend the learning day without ANY input from the community, the teachers or the parents! There have been many reports stating that an extended school day will not improve anything. AND LET ME BE CLEAR this is not an "Extended Learning day" (ie...add more recess, more breaks, etc....) this is adding MORE "INSTRUCTIONAL TIME," in some cases a whopping 2 minutes per class.

I will be using this forum to inform OPS parents of our rights and our obligations to be engaged. This was a single vote. It does not mean it is the final vote, and does not mean we have to lay down and take it.

I am asking you to join me to remind this administration that WE DO WANT A VOICE AND WE DEMAND OUR VOICES BE HEARD!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Harming Our Families: Five OPS Board Members Pass Extended School Day

Ignoring the pleas of tearful parents and the logic of experienced teachers, the following five Omaha Public School board members voted to extend the school day beginning this August:
Lou Ann Goding, Lacey Merica, Matt Scanlan, Katie Underwood and Yolanda Williams.

Three board members voted against extending the school day: Justin Wayne, Marian Fey, and Tony Vargas.

Teachers and some board members questioned exactly what learning gains would result from tacking on the equivalent of three to five minutes to each class period. One high school teacher stated: “...five more minutes per class period is not going to make a substantive difference. It might mean I get all the pencils back that I handed out at the beginning of class … but in terms of quality teaching, that five minutes is not really going to be used as extended teaching time.”

Several parents spoke against the proposal and explained how the extended school day would negatively impact their children and their family life.

Apparently the five school board members listed above aren't concerned that this change will have little to no effect on quality learning, but will have a significant negative effect on children and families. So why pass the proposal? Is it possible that Ms. Goding, Ms. Merica, Mr. Scanlan, Ms. Underwood, and Ms. Williams are being influenced by an agenda other than the well being of the children and families they were elected to serve?

Stay tuned, and don't forget to vote.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Extended school hours harm children and families

The Omaha Public School board is considering extending the school day by a significant amount of time--20 to 25 minutes per day--keeping the youngest students in school until after 4:00 PM.

It is the position of the Nebraska Family Forum that children do not need to spend even more time sitting at a desk. They need rest, they need play, and most importantly, they need family time. Keeping these kids away from their parents longer, in a forced "learning" environment, will not make them "smarter" and certainly won't make them happier, more productive or more successful young people.  It will also not solve the problem of poverty, which is the single most important factor in the educational achievement gap.  All it will do is make children more tired, more stressed, and more distant from their families.

If the OPS board approves these changes, children who ride a bus could have almost a 10 hour day, longer than an adult work day. And once that 10 hour day is over, there is still homework to be done. This expansion of the school day is not only unnecessary, it's harmful. What about fun activities such as soccer, baseball, or piano lessons? What about religious education? What about time with mom and dad? And what about sleep?

If OPS parents are concerned about this continued encroachment into family time, it is imperative to 1) E-mail each OPS board member and express your concerns and 2) ATTEND THE BOARD MEETING ON MONDAY, JUNE 15 AT  5:30 PM TO SPEAK AGAINST THESE CHANGES. If you don't take this opportunity to make your voice heard, these changes could be passed tomorrow and implemented this August.

If anyone would like assistance with organizing a response from OPS parents, writing a statement to the board, or preparing a short speech, members of the NFF are ready and willing to help. Please send an e-mail to

Brenda Vosik, Director
Nebraska Family Forum