Saturday, May 14, 2011

Truancy Meeting with Judge Crnkovich

Presiding Truancy Judge Tells Parents They're Not Qualified to Discern When Their Child is Sick

By: Autumn Cook

I was intrigued when the Millard schools sent home a flyer advertising a meeting about the new truancy law:

LB 800 & TRUANCY — Join us to get answers, helpful resources and support !
May 10, 2011, 6:30-7:30

"What in the world will they tell parents at this meeting?" I wondered. I was further intrigued by the identity of the main speaker, Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich, presiding judge of the Douglas County Truancy Diversion Program. Judge Crnkovich was a major proponent of the new truancy law, and recently received a lot of media attention after she threw a Millard couple in jail when they came to the truancy court after their son missed 20 days of school for medical reasons.

Since the flyer suggested that there would be resources and support, I was also interested in finding out what these resources and support would consist of, and what types of people would attend. As the meeting unfolded, it became apparent that the majority in attendance were parents of children with medical issues that had caused them to miss 20 days or more. By the middle of the meeting, you could have cut the tension in the room with a knife.

I applaud the Judge for turning out to try to defend the law and "help" people, but either she didn't understand that she was addressing an audience from a school district with a 96% attendance rate and a 98% graduation rate (kids don't drop out like flies here!) and parents whose students were doing fine in school despite their absences; or she really believes that parents whose children miss 20 days of school, no matter what, are demonstrating parental neglect and deserve the designation of "criminal."

This is how the evening unfolded.

The social worker from Horizon High School, a kind-faced woman with a sweet, enthusiastic demeanor, explained that this meeting was designed to help ease the anxiety that a lot of people were feeling about the new attendance policy. "I think it's because people don't have information about what's involved in the process," she said. I wondered how anyone could possibly feel better about being referred to the county attorney, a law enforcement officer who deals with criminals.

She told a truly inspiring story about how Judge Crnkovich had helped a student with a serious attendance problem become a perfect-attendance student, and how he was soon to graduate. "Most kids involved in truancy filings end up graduating," she said. But the children of the parents in that room weren't at any risk of not graduating.

She shared her perspective on the new truancy law, saying, "We need to look at this new law as a community coming together to address a problem." Once again, this would seem relevant with a different audience. But this was a room of parents whose children were neither at risk of dropping out or failing. She had told the story of a student who truly needed intervention. The children of the parents in this room did not.

These are the parents who are angry about this new law.

The general attitude among those trying to sell the new law was demonstrated by the school's social worker when she introduced the Judge. "She's passionate about this issue," she said. "We all are. These are our kids!" In discussions after the meeting with parents in attendance, several of them addressed this statement by expressing the reality that their children are not wards of the state, but in fact their children belong to them. They have earned the distinction of parent and all the rights that go with it from the moment of birth, and through every day that they have, through their own sweat and tears, kisses and hugs. raised, nurtured, and provided for those children God has entrusted them with. This comment, though well meant, became the dividing point between how these parents view their children, and how they are viewed by the professionals tasked with implementing the new truancy triage system.

Judge Crnkovich began her explanation of the new law with an description of what Juvenile Court is. There are three types of issues dealt with:

1. Breaking the law; these are the "juvenile delinquents."
2. Child abuse and neglect; this function is in place to protect children.
3. Status offenders; these are behaviors which are only offenses because of the age of the offender, such as staying out all night, running away from home, or truancy. She then equated "truancy" with "not attending school", a vast departure from the traditional definition of truancy, which is "absent without excuse." She said, "Truancy is a legal term meaning a status offence for not attending school." In other words, due the redefinition of truancy that took place with LB 800, if your child misses 20 or more days of school, you are a criminal.

"It is an act of parental neglect if a child is not being educated," she told this room full of parents whose children have missed many days of school. In fact, she said, "Education is so important that a court could" do a number of things, including "terminate parental rights...Children could be removed from the home if the absences are not addressed." With the record of HHS in this state, this seemed a veiled threat that if you've seen the truancy diversion team, and then you pull your kids from school for a few days to attend a family wedding, you're in danger of having her forcibly removed from your home.

"Abuse and neglect can be willful behavior; but it can also be, you know, in the back of your mind you think you're doing the best thing for them, but you're not." This statement embodied her general attitude, repeated throughout the meeting, that parents don't always know what's best for their own children, and they need judges such as herself to discern what's right and "get them services" to help them comply.

She explained that the new law was needed "to help our children grow and be better citizens...What we now know as a community is all the different reasons someone might miss school." She followed this by explaining that the county attorney has absolute authority to prosecute once a student has missed 20 days, but that he's agreed to work with the Truancy Diversion Task Force. She descibed this as a multi-disciplinary team of experts dedicated to helping parents identify the reasons their child is missing so much school, and finding ways to help their children "stay in school." Again, none of these parents were at risk of having their children drop out of school!

She continued with this line of thinking - that all kids who miss a lot of school are on the path to a life of crime. "Here’s what we’re learning, our prisons are filled with people who have a lack of school attendance.” She described a study of incarcerated people that found that a huge percentage of them were missing a lot of school early on. We've heard this from many proponents of this bill. The reasoning goes:

"The criminals in our jails missed a lot of school in their early years. Therefore, if a child is missing a lot of school in his early years, he's likely to become a criminal. We will help save your child from this destiny by ensuring that he doesn't miss a lot of school."

It's a horribly simplistic look at the problem, and we have no idea how accurate it is. Even though we know how many Nebraska students missed 20 days or more in 2009-2010 (22,000, or 8%) we don't know how many of those were having any problems in school. We also don't know how many doctors, engineers, business leaders or other successful people missed lots of school in their youth. That's a study that would be interesting to see!

She went on, telling the parents in attendance that they're in denial. "But we're all human!" she said, acknowledging that people feel this law is unjust. Then, in a sarcastic voice, "Don't tell me I have a problem!"

"It’s kind of amazing that people in our community are screaming, 'What do you mean we’re getting in trouble for not going to school?'” she said. The implication - hardly even veiled - was that every person whose child misses 20 days has a problem. Quite audacious to say to a group of responsible parents caring for sick children!

When she started taking questions, we saw an even darker side to the underpinnings of this new law. One father described how his son gets migraines that cause him to vomit and be unable to open his eyes. He told the judge that as a father, he could tell when his son was having a migraine; that he couldn't send his son to school that way; and that he didn't need to take his son to the doctor to get a diagnosis. The judge arrogantly questioned him, "How did you know what his condition was? Did you diagnose it?" 

I saw the line of reasoning! If they said yes, she was going to tell them that in Nebraska, only a doctor can diagnose illness! The mother, flustered by her challenge, explained that a doctor had diagnosed the cause of her sons migraines. The judge proceeded more carefully and said, "You've got to understand, that my world is different than your world in this way..." There was a long pause and she thought of how to phrase it, and then she said:

"Who discerns who's sick and who isn't?"

Well, we obviously come from different worlds! In my world, parents have a God-given natural right to discern when their child is sick, and it's outlandish to suggest otherwise. You could see the mother's face expressing disbelief at what she was hearing.

Another mother described her daughter's chronic illness, which took months to diagnose and get under control. Now she's healthy, but with only about 1.5 days to spare before the 20-mark. But, much to the mother's distress, she woke up that very morning vomiting, so she's within a fraction of a day of being forced to go through the LB 800 rigamarole.

"Don't worry," the judge told her. She assured her that she just needs to know the process to feel comfortable about it, and tried to explain it. Her explanation only fueled more discontent in the room as it was obvious that the process was "a long an complicated" one.

In an attempt to reassure parents who were at this point even more concerned, she described a new program she's interested in implementing in Omaha called a truancy assessment center, so that people wouldn’t have to go to the group meetings they are using now to sort through truancy cases. It would add yet another level of bureaucracy to do the same function that was traditionally handled by parents and educators working together. Of course, this structure distrust school administrators as much as parents.

As these discussions proceeded, the frustration swelled. Facial expressions and body language throughout the room told plenty about how people were feeling. One mother, attending with her daughter, had to step out into the hall so she could walk it off. Another woman who was feeling the tension couldn't sit down any more. She stood up and leaned against a wall, arms crossed, trying to maintain herself. A father, sitting at a table in the back, leaned his head on his hands and rested his elbows on the table, working to control his frustration. The tension was intense as these responsible, caring parents listened to someone with potentially great power over their lives tell them they weren't qualified to make decisions about their own children, and that they just need to get used to reporting to the government about their personal family decisions.

The judge acknowledged, "We have a lot of hurt, angry parents." She spent much of the meeting trying to placate people's frustration with the new law, telling them that they didn't need to worry, the process would be easy and they wouldn't get prosecuted. Then she had an idea. "Public service announcements would be great!" she said, thinking of how to persuade people not to worry - the government's here to help!

Here is the major disconnect! Why should we want to make law-abiding, hard-working, play-by-the-rules Nebraskans feel comfortable interacting with a law enforcement agency, seeking "help" from the government? What is positive about that goal? How can any government official who values freedom and family feel good about classifying parents whose children are succeeding in school - despite unusual circumstances that create a lot of absences - as criminals?

As she wrapped up she tried to explain why these parents with successful students needed to be part of the process. "In criminal law, it makes us mad when the crook gets off because of a technicality. But the law is there to protect the innocent." The implication was that we can't let you off because your son missed due to illness. That's like letting the crook off due to a technicality! Your son missed 20 days, and you are a criminal because of it! She pointed out that in some cases she's seen, the kids were missing due to anxiety. But it was actually the parent's anxiety that was the problem. She suggested that perhaps a doctor should be part of the multi-disciplinary team that's helping you, if you have a sick child.

As she described, "we're looking at a shift in thinking." The county attorney, lawyers, social workers and school officials are shifting from a mindset of prosecution, to one of rehabilitation. "We're there to provide help in a way that's not shameful; in a way that really helps."

While these multi-disciplinary community team members are shifting their thinking, she told us, we parents need to shift ours as well. We need to not see judges as judges, but as problem-solvers. In other words, we need feel grateful when the Truancy Intervention Task Force brings us in to assess our family's personal decisions and determine whether we're really doing what's best for our children!

The other major shift - which has already occurred - is the shift in responsibility for discernment in cases of missing school, from schools to the county attorney. This is the way in which they are effecting "a convergence of the education and law enforcement systems," as Sen. Ashford put it in floor debate last month. This only put families at greater risk of scrutiny and intrusion.

It was time to wrap up, but the Judge very graciously allowed me a couple of minutes to speak, as my hand had been up for a while. What I said there is what I would say to those who see this law as the best solution to the problem of true truancy.

The heart of the problem with this law is the shifting of discernment to the county attorney. It places too much power in the hands of law enforcement entities, with whom we have no personal relationship, as we do with our children's school administrators. When you ask us to become comfortable with the shift, you're asking us to become comfortable accounting to government for our personal family decisions. I'm fundamentally opposed to such a shift!

This law, as described by one of its major proponents and the presiding judge over the truancy process in Douglas County, no longer recognizes parents as the authority on their own child. It is condescending. It exposes children's potentially embarassing medical conditions to complete strangers.

The law was written to help prevent kids from dropping out and failing. The kids of the parents in this room are not in danger of dropping out or failing! By the traditional measure of grades, they're doing fine! The system in place before LB 800 worked for responsible parents; now they're being designated criminals. Why would we want to do this to law-abiding, hardworking, play-by-the-rules Nebraskans? 

There are successful truancy programs around the country that preserve the distinction between excused and unexcused absences, while getting services to the small group that really need them. Why can't we take a similar approach here?

Will there be parents who misuse the ability to excuse their child from school? Yes. But you can't usurp the parental rights of all these good people - the vast majority of parents - in the name of those few! Especially when there are programs that work at targeting those who truly need the services, without disregarding natural parental rights.

It was an illuminating evening. I continue to hope that those who want to improve school attendance among those who are struggling in school - those who are at risk of failing or dropping out - will understand what this law is doing, and what it will do when used full force (the law gives the county attorney discretion to get involved at any stage in the process, even after only five absences.)

We must take the time to contact our senators, write to the governor, spread the word about how this law undermines families, and effect a repeal of the law, and the pursuit of a more restrained, targeted approach to helping the kids who actually need help. The best way to help families whose kids are doing fine in school, despite many absences, is to leave them alone! The state must protect the rights of parents and the integrity of the family if it ever hopes to solve the societal ills we face.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Repeal New Invasive Truancy Law

by William J. Foster
When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for parents, acting responsibly in their role as caretakers and nurturers of their children, to seek the betterment of government, in accordance with the Laws of Common Sense, than persistent intrusion and heavy handed policy….
Well…if you’ve come to this blog…you can probably see where this is going. 
Last year the Nebraska legislature enacted, and the Governor signed, LB 800, a bill which, among other things, “[provided] for sanctions on parents and guardians for excessive absenteeism [of their children at school].”
We believe the law overreaches and lands squarely in the living rooms of families across the state in an intrusive way beyond the scope of good government.
The drafter’s intent is to help schools and local government deal with students who exhibit excessive truancy…kids who are heading down the wrong track…in time to recover as many as possible.
But the law requires schools to inform the county attorney when a child is absent 20 or more days in a year regardless of the reasons.  It applies even if those days were excused.  We think that goes too far and creates unnecessary oversight on healthy families.
What we agree with:  Truancy (in its traditional sense: absence without excuse) is unacceptable and must be dealt with by school administrators and other officials, including county attorneys, in appropriate cases.  Wanton disregard for school attendance cannot be allowed to persist among misbehaving children or their parents.
What we disagree with:  Legislation casting a net so large it affects good students and responsible parents making reasonable decisions about school attendance in light of other circumstances in the family’s life.  All families and all children should not be affected because of the behaviors occurring in a very small percentage of Nebraska homes.   
The law, as it now stands on the books, applies even to excused absences1. It makes no distinction between a child absent to break into neighborhood homes and one absent because grandma died and the family must drive 900 miles to attend the funeral.  It allows for no difference in judgment between the child whose parents don’t care about education and therefore condone absent behavior and the child who’s parents choose to take him or her out of school for a week when Mom or Dad are home for a  short mid-tour leave during military deployment to Afghanistan
As written, the law takes authority and judgment away from school official and vests it with county and state officials well removed from knowing individual circumstances. 
We don’t believe government from a distance is effective in local matters, nor that cookie cutter government is the right approach.  One size cannot fit all when it comes to school absence.  It makes no allowance for the school to consider all the circumstances and make a decision at the local level using the common sense and judgment we hire teachers and principals to show and exercise.

What we want changed:  We want the language changed regarding excused and unexcused absences.  We want it to apply only to unexcused absences.  We are even satisfied if the threshold for such absences is lowered from 20 to 10 per year and 5 per quarter.
If school administrators know students who maintain good grades and exhibit reasonable behavior…but who have missed days due to reasonable circumstances…they should not be required to contact the county attorney.  It wastes that office’s time and manpower and traumatizes parents and children who want to do the right thing.
If this legislation makes you uneasy, join us.  Contact your representative and the Governor’s office and ask for the amendment of this section of the law to exclude excused absences.  Let responsible parents make decisions without the county and state looking over their shoulders and second guessing their intentions and parenting ability.
Government, in its role as facilitator for the common good, should not overreach.  The state Capitol and the County Seat are not the best places to vest judgment about how to deal with individual children’s circumstances, the school is.  When there are real problems with truancy, the school may need help from high authority, but it should be the school’s decision when that point has been reached…and the solution for one child’s situation cannot be the solution to every child’s situation.

1. “If the child is absent more than twenty days per year or the hourly equivalent, the attendance officer shall file a report with the country attorney of the country in which such person resides…Nothing in this section shall preclude the county attorney from being involved at any state in the process.”
2.   “The number of absences…shall not exceed five days per quarter or the hourly equivalent.  School districts may use excused and unexcused absences for the purposes of the policy.”

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Parents Jailed Under New Truancy Law

This truancy law is pushing families too far!! It is astonishing. We have got to repeal LB 800. The mother in this story says they do not care why their son was absent. This new law is really flawed because it prosecutes families regardless of the circumstances.

Everyone who thinks this story is an example of government over reaching and harassing families needs to go to the WOWT page and make a public comment there. I was reading some of these comments and they are shocking. People who are applauding the conduct of the judge and saying the parents got what they deserved!! Really! Good grief what has happened to us?

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Last Thursday, April 21st, several members of the Millard Parent Society had the opportunity to visit the State Capitol Building, and more specifically, to visit the office of every Senator at the Capitol! Our purpose was to distribute stories or examples of how the new truancy bill would adversely affect families by putting pressure on school districts to disregard parent excused absences by requiring school districts to report students to the county attorney who are twenty days absences (excused or unexcused).

We also distributed information containing solutions that would define truancy in such a way as to protect the distinction between excused and unexcused absences while reaching students who are absent without excuse. We provided an example of the D.A. Mentor based truancy program that has been working well for inner city Memphis. As members of the Millard Parent Society, we are opposed to excessive truancy and believe there is a solution to fighting truancy without taking away parental rights and privileges.

The members in attendance were: Christine Bates, Sharon Call, Autumn Cook, Stephanie Morgan and Liz McCash, as well as younger children and infants. We were quite a sight with our strollers, binkies, stuffed animals and young children.

Autumn, Sharon and Liz visited every Senator on the 2nd floor, while Stephanie and Christine tackled the 1st floor. We were received with great interest and concern from most all of the Senator's aids. I felt that as we made contact with these people and spoke our concerns that we were being listened to and that we were making a difference!

One of the biggest questions we got from many of the offices we visited was, "Have you visited Senator Ashford's office?" And, "What does Senator Ashford say about this?" We knew we needed to visit Senator Ashford before the day's end, and as luck should have it, we happened to be in his office as he came through to leave for the Easter weekend (wink, wink).

We had the opportunity to speak directly with Senator Ashford for the length of at least ½ an hour regarding LB 463. At first he seemed closed and reluctant to enter a discussion of the bill, however, we persisted and he relented. It appeared that he was opening his mind up to be willing to change some of the bill to a degree and consulted with his aide in front of us. She seemed more closed on the discussion than he and at one point he seemed to be trying to convince her of our cause! I felt truly grateful that he was willing to listen to us and take our concerns seriously. I certainly hope that this remains the case and that we will soon see the evidence of his sincerity and understanding of our point of view.

On a personal level, this was a great experience for me. My ten year old son and I met many wonderful people that day, including our Senator, Senator Price, who offered to visit his scout troop. While holding Stephanie's baby in the hall I met and spoke with a Senator (never caught his name) at length about life in general and kids and living in Nebraska. I felt that we were being listened to and taken seriously. I felt that our visit made an impact. I am grateful for the example of politicking that Stephanie and Autumn demonstrated. I am hopeful that as the Senate votes on this bill this coming week, that changes will be made in giving some of the freedoms back to parents in discerning for ourselves when we feel it prudent to take our children out of school.

Sincerely and Gratefully,
Liz McCash

Mentor Based Truancy Programs

Other states are having success with mentor-based truancy programs that focus direct attention on the problem areas of truancy, are less expensive, and enlist the participation of community partners to reach troubled youth. We support the implementation of this type of approach to solving truancy in our most troubled school districts. We believe that it is important to preserve the distinction between excused and unexcused absences as the Memphis program below does. Preserving this distinction is the best way to foster a positive working relationship between parents and school administrators in their districts and allow parents an active role in the process of drafting district policy at the school board level.

The Memphis program provides earlier intervention than was present in Nebraska before the passing of LB 800 last year by defining criminal truancy as being absent from school for five days without excuse. Nebraskans have good reason for being concerned that our former truancy law was ineffective, especially in urban areas that suffer from high levels of delinquency and drop out rates. Under the former law the county attorney was not brought in until the student had twenty unexcused absences, which in most cases meant they had many more than that in total absences and had missed so much school that they were in serious trouble academically if not already in the juvenile justice system because of delinquent criminal behavior. The Memphis statute is a much more aggressive law then our former law and would intervene earlier in school absences that most often lead to delinquent behavior.

Results of the Memphis, TN D.A. Mentor Program for reducing truancy:

Clear Success: The data show a clear reduction in truancy rates that are specifically linked to the Truancy Reduction Program. Prior to intake, the students in the program had a truancy rate of 0.105—that should be understood in the following way. Prior to intervention by the DA’s office and the Order Regulating Conduct, these students had unexcused absences 10.5% of the time. For every 100 school days, these students were truant 10.5 days. Following intake, the truancy rate drops considerably to 0.068. The rate further drops once a mentor match is accomplished to 0.056. In summary, the DA’s Truancy Reduction Program shows a marked improvement in truancy rates for youth in the program.

The Benefits of Volunteer Mentors: The D.A.’s Office has formed a partnership with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC), which will hire a Mentor Recruitment Coordinator for the truancy-based mentoring program. The coordinator position will be funded for one year by the grant money awarded by the Plough Foundation. The grant will also help fund administrative and office supplies for the program. “Our truancy-based mentoring program works. But we have struggled in recruiting adult volunteers to meet the demands of students in need of mentors,” admitted District Attorney Gibbons. “Frankly, recruiting mentors is a full-time job, and we are grateful to the Plough Foundation.

Overview of the D.A. Mentor Program:
The University of Memphis Department of Criminology and Criminal Justice

The District Attorney General’s office determined that juvenile delinquency prevention and deterrence could be achieved by firmly addressing truancy directly. In Tennessee, truancy is defined as having five unexcused absences. The following section provides a summary of how the program process functions. Once a student in a target school has five unexcused absences, the Advocate notifies the DA’s office. A letter from the designated truancy prosecutor is sent to the student’s parents or guardians. The parents are given an opportunity to review and explain any absences that were incorrectly deemed unexcused. If there are no reasonable excuses for the absences, the matter is required to be heard in court. Once the issue is presented in court, the Juvenile Prosecutor meets with the student and his or her parents to discuss prosecution options and possible intervention strategies, including the mentoring program.

Regardless of whether a student is placed in the mentoring program, all students are subject to an “Order Regulating Conduct”. Involvement in the DA’s Truancy Reduction Program is completely voluntary. Most parents are encouraged by the additional support available through the truancy program and the majority agrees to participate. The purpose of the program is not to prosecute truant students or parents, although prosecution under state statute may be warranted in some cases and aggressively pursued for parents and students not in compliance. Rather, the goal is to identify at-risk truant students and to offer an early intervention strategy that affirms parental responsibility, provides academic support and encouragement to students, and strengthens the relationship between local law enforcement and the school system in an effort to make the community safe.

In the Best Interest of My Children

Dear Nebraska Senators,

My name is Christine Bates. I am the mother of three school age children that are enrolled in Millard Schools in Omaha, Nebraska. Both my husband and I are VERY concerned about the truancy law passed last year (LB 800) and the expansion of that law before the legislature now (LB 463). I just received “the letter” because my children have missed school. From what I have read, the intent of the law is to improve educational outcomes by implementing policies that require children to be in school. My 7th grade daughter is a straight A student, 2 years ahead in Math and in honors English. Earlier this year she took the ACT (special invite from Duke University) and scored a 28, which is amazing. This is a higher score than most 11th graders, let alone a 12 year old 7th grader. In no way are my 3 children falling behind in any subject, and these are the kinds of kids who will get caught in the wide net cast by these laws.

All three of my children are very good students and thankfully don’t get sick very often. However, when they are ill, I want them to stay home to get better. I don’t think it is good practice to send your child to school sick for any reason. It endangers children in two ways, the first; a sick child attending school will take much longer to recover and second; students are then exposed to more germs and illness, because of the other sick children being at school. The fear of being prosecuted or coming under scrutiny from Dept of Family Service has caused me AND all of my friends to change the way we parent our children. There have been at least 5 or 6 times I sent my children to school when it would have been in their BEST interest to stay home. In fact there have been 2 or 3 times, I sent them to school sick when later in the day I received a call from the school nurse to pick them up because they were ill. I only sent them to school because of the new truancy law and the letters the school sends home telling us that the county attorney will be notified.

I also believe that it is in the best interest of the child to allow parents to be parents and make decisions for the family unit. There are times when my family has opportunities throughout the community or even a family gathering that would require the child to miss school. Education and becoming a well rounded individual just doesn’t come from being at school. I believe, and there are studies that prove children learn are greatly benefited by having hands on experiences, like museums, cultural events, speaking and spending time with our elders, learning from them, traveling and having family time.

My family just had an amazing opportunity to travel to Utah for Spring Break. We were there to visit family, attend a family wedding, witness the birth of a new nephew, attend a religious conference which the children were exposed to uplifting messages, attend a museum of paintings from the 1800’s, visit a national park and we took a tour of a humanitarian center to learn how we can better serve in our community to help those in need. These were experiences that will help my children become upstanding citizens and it will add to their education. Sadly I received “the letter” because of this opportunity I wanted my children to have.

Children are most beloved and connected to their parents and most parents make decitions with their child's best interest in mind. I am very sad that we are becoming a country where parenting is micro-managed by the government, where parents live in fear of a wrong step lest they be reported to DCFS. If I choose to have my child out of school, that is MY CHOICE, I am their parent and I expect the school to trust my judgement especially when my child is thriving in life. When my children miss a day due to illness, I call the school and if possible get their work so they can do it at home and if we must wait until they are well, they quickly finish up the work missed by going in early, staying late or missing recess to finish the missed assignment. If we know in advance they will be out of school, we ask for the assignments to do while they are gone and again if necessary stay after or come in early to get the assignments done. We have never needed the supervision of school administrators to do what is best for our kids.

I think public school is the best way to educate my children because of the quality scholastic and social learning opportunities. It is my desire to have my children continue the excellent education they are receiving in the Millard public schools. However I am concerned enough about the effects of the new truancy law on my family that if LB 463 passes I may consider home schooling as an option to preserve our flexibility and quality family life.

The freedoms we enjoy are among my greatest blessings and with each piece of freedom we lose my heart breaks. Without freedom to raise our families after the dictates of our own conscience we have no hope of raising our children to be strong people of character. Please help us repeal the parts of LB 800 that took away my right to excuse my child from school and in the very least stop the expansion of this truancy law in LB 463.

Christine Bates
Omaha, Nebraska

The Governor's Vision for Strengthening Education

In an op-ed written by the Governor in January of last year, Heineman lays out his vision for strengthening education in Nebraska of which truancy intervention is one priority. The Governor's plans are noble and well intentioned and he proposes creating a Nebraska Virtual High School. This idea is excellent because it could serve a wide range of students and could provide flexibility for families. However, there are some key initiatives in his plan that Nebraska parents should take a closer look at because of the encroachment on family life.

Policy proposals like LB 463 are motivated by a belief that American schools suffer from a serious achievement gap when compared to other industrialized nations. In the State of the Union address this year the President held up China's public schools as an example, saying that we are lagging behind and need to be more serious about closing the gap.

Before we follow in the footsteps of school districts around the world we should examine the issue further. Truancy policy is only one of the Governor's priorities that could negatively impact families. His proposal to examine "ways to change school schedules and calendars in order to give students more learning time" could also have a serious impact on family life.

Tough truancy prosecution and longer school days are initiatives supported by educators and lawmakers on both sides of the aisle who believe that students fail because they don't spend enough time in school. I contend the opposite, that the largest contributing factor to academic failure is a broken home, and that more time in school means less family time which weakens families further.

American students aren't "falling behind" because they don't spend enough time in school or because there’s not enough money in education, there is already plenty of both. Our student population today suffers from chronic apathy and lack of self-motivation among other decays of character and life skills that are the result of the broken family and a culture of entitlement and narcissism. The antidote to the poison crippling our families is a greater focus on traditional values, more quality family time, and parental responsibility.

We should oppose policies that further remove kids from their families. As it is, our kids have practically no time at home, and quality free time in a child's life is almost extinct in our "modern world". Children today spend most of their lives in an institutional environment; daycare, pre-school, school, soccer, basketball, football, dance, art, music, etc. And after a day of organized activity most American kids return home and spend the rest of their time doing homework and indulging in media.

The stresses particular to two-income or single-parent families combined with the unsupervised exposure our kids have to television, gaming, and social media has swallowed up most of the family time needed to build good character and replaced it with influences that seriously undermine the moral fabric of our society. This is a huge factor to our "failing education". Kids today are starving for nurture at home which is essential to a bright mind and a strong work ethic.

Perhaps it's unintentional, but some of the Governor's proposals to strengthen education could weaken families. The role of the family is being stripped away in the name of modern progress and family centered communities are a relic of the past. Kids who could explore, build, and tumble around on the floor with dad are something you see in re-runs of "Leave it to Beaver". What is happening to us? Is this what we want? Really? More school, more nanny state politics that presumes that "government knows best.”

People talk about the days of American innovation with a wisp of nostalgia and tell us that our schools today aren’t up to the challenge; they say we can’t produce the next Henry Ford or Edwin Hubble. Didn't the great American innovators and scientist come out of the Andy Griffin days when boys ran free for hours after school ankle deep in mud catching bullfrogs at the river banks?

This is America...what made us great will keep us great. The fuel has always been individualism and hard work built on the bed rock of strong family centered communities and a moral society. The greatness we're reaching for didn't come out of high tech high schools or Ivy League halls; it comes from the solid character that is built in the halls of a happy home.

Those were the days when we still understood how to cultivate greatness and a good education. "One of the surest ways to recognize real education is by the fact that it doesn't cost very much, doesn't depend on expensive toys and gadgets. The experiences that produce it and the self awareness that propels it are nearly free." (John Taylor Gatto, "Dumbing Us Down")

We intuitively know this is true and yet we are persuaded to believe that more is better! More time in school, more technology, more supervision, but sometimes more is just more. In this case it's just more of the poison that's killing our families and less of the creative free time our kids need to develop their genius.

If we are taken in by promises of a better education for our kids at the expense of family life then we will have to live with the consequences when we wake up someday and Arne Duncan's (Obama's Educations Secretaries) vision of education has become our reality; "schools will be open 12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months of the year." We will wake up to a world where our kids have no time left over to "keep important appointments with themselves and their families to learn the lessons in self-motivation, perseverance, self-reliance, courage, dignity, and love – and lessons in service to others, too which are among the key lessons of home and community life. Thirty years ago these lessons could still be learned in the time left over after school." Thirty years later what lessons are our kids learning?

Our Voices Magnified

Stephanie Morgan and Christy Hall

Yesterday we participated in the government of our state in order to defend the bed rock of our society, the family. Together with friends, fellow society members, and mothers who I admire and respect, I went to Lincoln to testify before the judiciary committee in opposition to LB 463.

I have always loved politics, prided myself on being informed, and would never skip an election, but yesterday for the first time I really participated in this great democracy that I love.

It wasn’t easy! Even after closely following the issue for nearly two months, reading the bill dozen times, writing a handful of articles, and combing over our testimonies for a week; I was nervous and still delivered my testimony with a few hiccups, but it was worth it.

There is a story in the World Herald today by Martha Stoddard that re-caps the hearing pretty well. It’s the most complete of the news coverage on this story. (Read: Moms: Truancy Bill too Harsh)

Here are some of the highlights of our testimonies. Autumn Cook testified first for the opposition, she said, “the net was being cast too wide, and would catch families that don't need catching.”

In my testimony I highlighted the statistical ploy that is used in the funding section of this bill that first triples the percentage of students considered truant and then requires a fifty percent reduction of this higher rate.

I testified that, “The requirement that the truancy rate be reduced by fifty percent based on ten absences will obviously pressure schools to begin an aggressive investigation after only five absences. It’s the only way to reduce the rate by fifty percent when that rate is calculated at ten absences.”

Christy Hall focused her testimony on the consequences that follow after only five absences, she said, “I am concerned that regular parents and students will become the object of inappropriate and undeserved scrutiny.”

Crystal Young testified that this legislation undermines parental authority and will result in weakening the family and by extension the education of our children. Her testimony made brilliant use of personal experience and was a passionate defense of the family.

I must report to our society that I was disappointed when the Millard School District sent a representative to testify in support of LB 463 while the State Board of Education and OPS took a neutral stand on this legislation.

The representative from OPS in contrast came well informed and from his neutral position was in a better position to discuss both positives and negatives about the bill. He addressed more of our concerns then our own school administrator.

During Autumn Cook’s testimony Senator McGill said, “We often don’t hear from regular people at the Capitol.” What a shame! Shame on us regular people, that is! But not yesterday! Yesterday, we were great! We sat in front of powerful people – scary! – And told them how we felt and what we thought. We were prepared and thoughtful, and we reminded them and ourselves that these laws affect real families.

For the better part of two months we have closely followed this truancy bill, wrote letters to lawmakers, and informed our friends. We have done our best to provide some balance to this important legislation. I want to thank those who gathered their courage, left their children, and drove in a blizzard to testify before the committee; but I also want to thank those parents of our society who were with us in spirit, who prayed for us, and shared their experiences and perspectives for us to voice. We took your concerns with us and voiced your frustrations.

The members of the committee were respectful and receptive to our concerns; we had an opportunity to talk to school administrators, the county attorney, and Senator Ashford after the hearing. I am pleased with the work we have done so far but we are not done yet. We must use this opportunity to push for amendments that will protect us and other parents like us.