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.”

No comments:

Post a Comment