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Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Attendance Law Takes Effect With New School Year



NFF Parents:  The new state law regarding school absences took effect on July 18.  As children throughout Nebraska head back to school over the next couple of weeks, we will begin seeing how our own school districts and county attorneys handle the changes.  (Please click on this link for a reminder of the primary changes included in the new law.)
http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2014/03/amendment-2164-fix-to-nebraskas.html

The new law has returned discretion over attendance back to the school districts, within the guidelines set forth in LB464, and many of those districts have revised their attendance policies over the summer.   Some of the new policies look great; others continue to be unreasonable.  Case in point is Lincoln Public Schools, which still categorizes parent-approved illnesses and medical appointments as “unexcused,” with no differentiation between parents calling their children in sick and kids who are really skipping school.

The Nebraska Family Forum as a group had a great impact on getting state law changed and returning discretion to the local level.  It’s now up to you, the parents of each district, to communicate with your school boards if you are unhappy with your local attendance policy.

Several members of the NFF, myself included, have experience dealing with school boards and administrators, organizing other parents, and effecting change.  We would be happy to guide you through that process.  However, a parent in Omaha, or a statewide group such as ours, cannot resolve a bad attendance policy in No. Platte or Lincoln or Hastings.  That is up to individual community members.

Don’t be intimidated by your local school board members.  You elected them, and they are there to do what’s best for your children and your families.  They are your friends and neighbors and fellow parishioners.  NFF members have found that school boards are, for the most part, approachable and open to hearing from the parents they represent.  Most of them are parents too, and are more than willing to listen to your concerns.

My advice to all of you is to read your district’s new attendance policy NOW.  If you think it’s reasonable, that’s great.  If you have issues with the way your district plans to implement the changes to state law, I suggest you take action right now.  Don’t let the new policies catch you by surprise.  Be proactive, instead of being forced into the position of reacting after the fact.  Protect your kids and protect your family, now rather than later.  These are OUR schools and they exist to educate OUR children.  It is our right and responsibility as parents to speak up and ask for change when school policy is hurting our children.

If you need help approaching your school board, please feel free to contact me at NebraskaFamilyForum@gmail.com. 

Brenda Vosik, Director

Nebraska Family Forum

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Common Core: A scam on the American public

This is a fascinating article about the deceit, cronyism and politics involved with the implementation of Common Core.

http://www.arizonadailyindependent.com/2014/06/01/truth-behind-arizonas-sudden-withdrawal-from-parcc/


I suspect this Arizona story is just a small sampling of what's going on nationwide.

Common Core is an enormous scam on the American public. Pearson, with the help of its political allies, is making millions. Our children are Pearson's unpaid guinea pigs, worker bees, data gold mines, and victims. Americans' tax dollars are being used to victimize their own children in a money making scheme so enormous that it should have the suffix "-gate" after it. 

Nebraska parents, we must remain vigilant in our fight against Common Core in our state, and we must join with other parents nationwide who are fighting to get rid of this atrocity in the states that have already implemented CC. Common Core is doing enormous harm to children throughout this nation and it is our responsibility to stand up and save them.

I encourage you to join nationwide groups to get more information about Common Core: Parents and Educators Against Common Core, Left-Right Alliance for Education, Dump Duncan, Common Crud, Badass Parents Association, and Badass Teachers Association are a few of the groups with good information.

Charter Schools study

This study is very interesting, especially in light of the possibility that Nebraska may legalize charter schools in the near future.

http://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/28/breaking-news-florida-league-of-women-voters-releases-bombshell-charter-study/


Florida is often held up as the "gold standard" by proponents of charter schools, However, this study found that Florida's charter schools do not perform better than public schools; that charters are more segregated than public schools; that many charters funnel money to religious organizations; that a significant number of charters operate for profit; and that the charter industry has captured control of key seats in the legislature.
I would like to find out more about the pros and cons of charter schools. Some people think they are the answer to failing school districts. Others think they will be the death of the public schools, because they funnel tax dollars from public schools into private schools who selectively accept the cream-of-the-crop students, and are run on a for-profit basis by businessmen and celebrities (did you know the rapper Pit Bull has a charter school?)

In any case, future discussion of this topic in our legislature promises to be a lively one.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thoughts on Amendment 2164

Whenever I talk to the press, I feel nervous that they're going to misquote me or take my words out of context. So in a nutshell, here's what I really mean.

The current excessive absenteeism law has harmed many children and families.

Interactions with the justice system have been particularly harmful for children suffering from mental and behavioral health issues (depression, autism, etc.)

School districts throughout the state have reported thousands of children to the county attorney unnecessarily. I don't know why. Some day I'd like to get a straight answer from educators on what would possess them to turn struggling kids over to law enforcement without cause or remorse.

County attorneys have prosecuted children who were not skipping school and were absent through no fault of their own, including sick children with doctor's notes. I don't understand this either. I'm not giving the county attorneys a pass; however, I do know it's their job to prosecute and get convictions.  I understand their actions more than I understand the actions of the educators, who have devoted their lives to helping children, yet have caused so much harm.

I am satisfied with the verbiage of Amendment 2164 and feel confident that positive changes will result when it becomes law.

The amendment, if implemented correctly, will resolve the problem of children with absences due to physical and behavioral health being turned over to the county attorney. I believe it will prevent thousands of children from being thrown into the juvenile justice system.

There are children who need help overcoming barriers to attendance. AM 2164 is designed to offer that help rather than punish children who are struggling.

I believe Sen. Brad Ashford is doing a good job of explaining the problems with the current law and why changes need to be made. I appreciate his willingness to advocate for those changes.

I am particularly grateful for Sen. Mark Christensen's work on this issue. His advocacy for our families was behind the scenes and many people will never know the extent of his contribution, but suffice it to say he is a hero in my book.

Once the changes take effect, parents will need to work collaboratively with their schools to ensure the new law is implemented as intended. Parents elect their school board members and pay the salaries of school employees, so parental input into policies affecting their kids is crucial. It is the parents' responsibility to work with their school districts respectfully to achieve what is best for their children. That is, after all, what we have been fighting for.


Brenda Vosik, Director
Nebraska Family Forum

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Amendment 2164: A Fix to Nebraska's Excessive Absenteeism Law



Dear NFF Members:

Over the past three weeks, I have had the privilege of working with a committee assembled specifically for the purpose of rewriting the excessive absenteeism law.  This committee consisted of school administrators, social workers, State Department of Education personnel, a county attorney and a defense attorney, a children’s advocacy group…and me, representing you.

Our committee spent about 15 hours talking, negotiating, and coming to agreement on how we could prevent children with legitimate absences from being referred to the county attorney, while still ensuring that children who are truly at risk are able to get the help they need to overcome barriers to school attendance.

Below is the link to the verbiage that the committee agreed upon.  The amendment is 2164 to LB 464, and it will be debated on the floor very soon, possibly as early as Thursday, March 6.

http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/AM/AM2164.pdf

If this law is passed, it will provide safeguards and oversight to prevent schools from using county attorneys as a first resort to enforce attendance policy, and it will help put a stop to county attorneys filing charges on students with legitimate absences.  It puts a great deal of responsibility on the schools to work with the families before ever referring to the county attorney—a piece that has been missing for the past four years.

These are the key strengths of the new verbiage:

·        There is no mandatory referral to the county attorney.  The school is no longer required to refer your child at 20 days of absence.
·        The schools have six specific steps they must take before even considering referral to law enforcement.  Those steps must be well documented.
·        The cornerstone of those six steps is collaboration with the family.  Parents and school administrators must agree on a plan together when a student is struggling with attendance.  All factors contributing to absenteeism must be considered and addressed prior to referral to the county attorney.  The county attorney is to be used rarely and only as a last resort.
·        After all steps are completed and documented, there is a minimum number of absences (20) that must be reached before the school can even consider referral.  Illnesses that make attendance impossible or impracticable cannot be used in this 20 day tally.
·        An affirmative defense clause has been added.  The amendment specifically states that if the school does not complete and document every step required in the statute, it is a defense to prosecution of truancy or neglect charges.  In other words, if the school doesn’t do their job, the county attorney has no case.
·        The Council on Student Attendance is created.  This council will review attendance policies and practices of every Nebraska school district and make recommendations for changes.  There will be oversight of school districts who have unreasonable policies and/or are making inappropriate referrals to the county attorney.

Parents, these are very positive changes!  With correct implementation, this amendment should eliminate thousands of children being referred to the juvenile justice system.  Education of parents, schools, county attorneys, and defense attorneys will be the key to making this work the way it’s supposed to.

The NFF is almost 740 strong this morning, and growing every day.  We are not going anywhere.  Our group will continue to be vigilant as this law is passed and implemented, and we will not stop pointing out when the law is being misused and our children are being harmed.  However, I believe a great deal of that harm will be alleviated if this amendment passes.

Thanks to all of you brave families for speaking up in defense of our children over the past four years.  WE ARE NOT DONE YET.  I will be posting an urgent call to action on the Facebook page and blog very shortly, asking for you to immediately CALL AND E-MAIL STATE SENATORS and ask them to vote for this amendment. Please help make one last push to get this law passed, for the sake of our children.

Brenda Vosik, Director
Nebraska Family Forum