Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Nebraska Aims for Perfect Attendance but Misses the Mark

The Omaha Learning Community will go forward with a more detailed plan that aims for perfect school attendance. Kevin Riley, Superintendent of Gretna Schools and a key member of the drafting team said, "You'll notice in the title that you don't see the words 'absent' or 'truant.' Those are symptoms."

RPS Superintendent Jerry Riibe said, "We need to be more forward-thinking in seeing that we have all students, every day, in class and learning." With the goal of perfect attendance, it is hard to imagine that the fears expressed by parents over this plan won't be realized. I am curious to see how this plan is administered. This year will tell the story. How will school administrators define appropriate absences and in what cases will parents be deemed irresponsible?

As it stands, the MPS student handbook states just four justifiable reasons for absence: illness, emergencies, religious observance, and participation in school-sponsored functions. By this standard, an out-of-state family wedding, a visit with a deployed soldier, the birth of a sibling, or any other important family consideration would not be excused.

Several recent World Herald articles highlighting the new plan have called the plan “smart” and said "that if students' absences are excused, the children won't be hassled." I certainly hope that the process to determine whether or not to excuse an absence doesn’t cause parents of good students to feel as though they are under constant scrutiny. Parents today already alter their parenting in unhealthy ways because of the fear of being judged an unfit parent.

The World Herald editorial page said we should give our local superintendents credit for putting together a “smart plan”. The report went on to say that "without a common-sense way to handle absences due to illness and other legitimate reasons, this new truancy law was at risk of running into resistance from parents." I think the question parents have at this juncture is why are they no longer trusted to determine whether an absence is legitimate or not?

Putting the decisions of parents under a microscope could backfire. Even without the more aggressive early interventions laid out by the new plan we have seen parents alter their responsible family-centered decisions as a result of the law. Last year, as parents became aware of the new law and received notifications at home warning them not to miss any more days of school, they cancelled family plans, sent their kids to school sick, and curtailed other important family needs to stay clear of getting in trouble with school authorities, or worse.

I am one of many skeptical and concerned parents who were outraged last year in dealings with proponents of this law. We were told by Sen. Ashford, sponsor of the legislation, that parents have never had the right to excuse their kids from school for any reason and Judge Crnkovich, presiding judge of the Douglas County Truancy Diversion Program, told parents they’re not qualified to discern when their children are sick.

These messages were loud and clear, the only latitude parents have in making these decisions is granted to us by the state, and that all natural rights we claim as parents are forfeit upon enrollment. It may be an idea accepted by the Governor, who stated at Tuesday’s press conference that the plan is “about helping our children.” But the reality is that our children are not wards of the state; they in fact belong to us as parents.

We have earned the distinction of parent and all the rights that go with it from the moment of birth, and through every day that we have, through our own sweat and tears, kisses and hugs, raised, nurtured, and provided for those children God has entrusted us with. This plan, however well meant, represents a conflict between how parents view their parental role and how it is viewed by the professionals tasked with implementing the new truancy triage system.


  1. The irony I keep finding with these statements has to do with school sports. If the politicians' and administrators true goal is to "have all students, every day, in class and learning," then are they also making a push for all school activities to start OUTSIDE of school hours? How many hours of school do student athletes miss each week? Back when I was in school, I would estimate that they each missed about 1/2-1 day a week (especially golf and track team members). How is it different for a student athlete to miss school on a weekly basis, versus a student who is attending a once-in-a-lifetime family activity? There's a double standard here and it makes me very uneasy. Of course, sports bring in a lot of money for schools. I guess that's my answer.

  2. I'm going to attempt a Questions and Answers discussion in my next post and I will address this question first:

    How is it different for a student athlete to miss school on a weekly basis, versus a student who is attending a once-in-a-lifetime family activity?

  3. I think it would be interesting to know how many days the proponents of this plan have missed at work over the course of a year.