Saturday, October 29, 2011

NFF Grass Roots Efforts to Amend Nebraska's "Truancy" Law

NFPF Core Supporters, Community Partners, and Friends,

This is a recap of the NFPF (Nebraska Family Policy Forum) Political Action Team Training meetings that took place this week. At our meetings we discussed strategies for our goal to amend Nebraska's invasive “truancy” law in the 2012 legislative session.

We also discussed the need to stop possible legislation to tighten the law further including a proposed laws to "close a loophole" under which students ages 16 and 17 can avoid truancy issues by dropping out of school, to lower the mandatory attendance law from 6 to 5, and to reduce the number of absences at which a report to the county attorney would be required.

The number of passionate supporters who are willing to lend support by volunteering their time is increasing. Each time I have an opportunity to meet more of you I feel blessed and more hopeful for our success. These meetings were attended by some very exceptional people and I went away inspired by the ideas shared at the meetings.

One of the things we discussed was that this "truancy" law, which is a serious affront to the natural rights of all parents, has the potential of bringing together people from communities across our city and state, across racial and socio-economic lines, and across political and ideological lines in order to protect families from the undue scrutiny of the state. 

We hope to create alliances of community organizations, grassroots organizations, and political parties whose interests overlap. We are pooling resources and talents from organizations across the state in our effort to amend Nebraska's "truancy" law. We are creating a coalition that will work for seriously-needed reforms in family, juvenile, and education policy in our state.

Our efforts are an organic grassroots movement, and this takes the dedication of many people working together to be successful. Meeting each of you gives me great hope for what we will accomplish working together. I consider Phase 1 of our efforts fully operational at this point. Let's review our action plan as it stands now:

1. Team leaders will work to make contact with those public officials on their list, bringing in other supporters and friends to attend these meetings with them.
2. Team Leaders will act of their own volition to reach out to other contacts that they feel will be of value to our efforts.
3. All Core Supporters will work to spread the word throughout their area of influence, via social media, the blog (http://nfpf.blogspot.com/), passing out flyers, talking to friends and inviting them to join the Facebook group or check out the blog.
4. Encourage all supporters to write letters and make phone calls to their representatives.
5. Encourage all supporters to write open letters for the blog to discuss their thoughts about this truancy law. Email them to: nebraskaparentsociety@gmail.com
6. Encourage families who have been affected or are concerned they might be affected to write their "truancy stories" for publishing at the blog. Email them to: nebraskaparentsociety@gmail.com
7. Encourage all supporters to join our core support by registering their basic information with the group so that we can coordinate our efforts by legislative and school districts.
8. Join discussions on social media, post thoughts, helpful website, stories, and other pertinent information to drive the conversation.
9. Submit articles for publication at the blog. Articles could be anything relevant to the discussion, research reports, reactions to media coverage, reactions to meetings with lawmakers, etc.

The blog has a detailed page on how people can help our cause, this is a good link to post and email to friends: http://nfpf.blogspot.com/p/what-can-you-do.html

Let's keep in touch via email. If you have any needs I can assist you with please contact me. If you have any meetings you would like me to attend or would like to meet with me in person, please contact me.

Thanks again,
Stephanie Morgan

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Gdowski Family: The intended target

Written by: Stephanie Morgan

We know that Nebraska’s new “truancy” law is making victims of ordinary kids and their families and that even kids with excused absences and good academic records are caught up in a net that is cast too wide. But what about kids who really struggle in school and have lost interest in their education? Is the law helping them? After all, they are the kids that law was intended to help; it was passed with the intent of saving these kids from academic failure, dropping out of school, and worse.

Melissa Gdowski shared the story of her daughter’s struggles with school attendance that ended this week when her 16 year old daughter dropped out of school to avoid any more dealings with truancy court. Melissa’s daughter was the quiet kid. She listened to teachers, followed the rules, and never had a detention. Her teachers loved her. Despite these indications of school success, she never really liked school.

Melissa was a stay-at-home mom until her husband was injured on the job. Then she had to take a full time job, working 70-80 hours per week to support her family. Her daughter was only five years old when hard times hit. When Melissa’s daughter was thirteen, her father died of cancer. Melissa sold everything--tractors, trucks, cattle, their dogs and cats-- and moved to town.

By the ninth grade her daughter wouldn’t go to school for weeks at a time. Melissa was diligent in helping her daughter to adjust to life and engage in school, she understood the tragedies her young daughter had suffered and had her in counseling continually after her dad died. Melissa tried everything to get her daughter to school. She enlisted friends and family to wake her up and take her to school. Melissa recalled her oldest son picking her daughter up and “carrying her to the car to go to school”. She even asked a school counselor to come to the house to take her to school.

Melissa felt she had exhausted all her options when last year the school hired a "teacher" who worked with the students who struggled to attend and their families. At first she was happy to work with the specialist. “It was a relief. I actually thought that she understood how hard I was trying to get her to go to school. I thought she saw how frustrated I was. I thought I was doing the right thing.” Melissa said. This is why she was shocked when she got a letter from the county attorney in the mail summoning her daughter to court. To add insult to injury, Melissa was shocked to find out that the school had reported to the county attorney that she was uncooperative, never sent notes, and was a negligent parent for not “making” her daughter go to school. The judge at least had some common sense and gave her a continuance telling her daughter, “Go to school, that’s all we want.”

That semester her daughter did so much better. She missed only 3 days! Melissa was so encouraged she said, “I was so happy and relieved. She was actually proud of herself.” At their next court date she took her daughter’s attendance record feeling hopeful that the county attorney would be as pleased as she was. Dismayed by what happened next, Melissa said, “The county attorney had a blow up.” The attorney scolded her saying, “Didn’t the judge tell you not to miss any days at all... So you are just blowing off the judge?” Melissa was shocked. Her daughter had gone from missing 40 days in 1st semester to 3 days 2nd semester and it didn’t satisfy the county attorney.

They held her daughter in contempt of court and the county attorney recommended juvenile detention. Melissa was horrified that her quiet, congenial girl who had never had a school detention was going to have to serve time in juvenile detention. She couldn’t believe they were going to put her daughter there, with kids who were real criminals, kids who had broken probation or were in there for drunk driving or worse.

Once again the juvenile judge utilized better judgment and ordered community service and a continuance, but unfortunately the whole experience was a huge blow to their confidence in the system and as the next court day approached fear took hold. Melissa’s daughter had missed some days and the thought of her daughter ending up in juvenile detention this go around was terrifying for both of them. Neither Melissa or her daughter were willing to test their luck a third time, and so with only 2 math classes left to graduate, her daughter left school for good.

“I cried for 2 days. This was not what I wanted for her. I am hoping she will go back to school someday.” Melissa said. “I so wanted her to graduate, but the pressure and stress of a possible truancy charge again, well that is what will keep her from going back.”

Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge, Liz Crnkovich, told the World Herald in February that “Confrontation doesn't translate into problem-solving and helping these kids change,” and yet Crnkovich has been a driving force behind the “confrontational” approach our state is taking to address truancy, juvenile delinquency, and crime. I agree with her statement, confrontation doesn’t help kids change, as is apparent in Melissa’s story, but there are certainly more innovative approaches to habitual truancy then the one she helped construct in our state.

Crnkovich and team modeled Nebraska’s truancy program after the Jefferson County Truancy Diversion Project in Kentucky. The “acclaimed” program used as a model for judicially driven “truancy diversion”, has hardly produced the success one would expect for a “model” approach. Since it began in 1997, Jefferson County attendance rates have only risen 1% and graduation rates actually dropped by 1%. Despite the program, Jefferson County continues to be #1 in juvenile crime – both violent and nonviolent. NAEP test results for Jefferson County students continue to be well below the national average. In 2009 23% of 8th graders were proficient in math and 26% proficient in reading.

Melissa’s story adds force to the argument that Nebraska is addressing school attendance from the wrong side of the equation. Our judicial approach assumes that family is the primary source of a student's attendance problem and operates on the assumption that the sole effective solution to truancy lies outside the school. It is based on this false assumption that State officials believe that providing a legal mechanism by which the state can “intervene” into the homes of students with attendance “problems”, they can “mitigate and leading to academic failure.


In reality when lawyers and judges scrutinize, monitor, and prosecute the families who struggle they do more harm than good. Father Steven Boes, of Boys Town, testified at the hearings of LB800 (the new truancy law) in 2010 and asked officials in the room to remember that, “there's always at least one person in a family that wants what is best for their children and is willing to ask for and receive the help they need to help their child.” He continued, “I'm asking you to join Boys Town in proclaiming that not only are there no bad boys as Father Flanagan taught, but there are no bad families.”

In Melissa’s case this was certainly true, she had done everything for her daughter that she could do on her end of the equation. She had her daughter in counseling to handle the hardships of her dad’s death, she followed the recommendations of doctors, and she sought help from her family, friends, and the school. In the end Melissa’s daughter was just not interested in school. Perhaps there was something more that could have been done on the school’s end of the equation. I wonder listening to her story if the education system had stifled her love of learning and failed to engage her interest.

Studies show that students who fail to attend school most often "cited boredom and loss of interest in school, and irrelevant courses as the major factors in their decision to stop attending." Most commonly, from the student's perspective, the immediate cause of "truancy" lies within the school. Despite the belief among most educators that family problems cause habitual truancy, in fact schools can deal with many of the issues that cause truancy -- even in the face of indifferent or ineffective parenting.

We will continue to fail Nebraska’s kids if we continue to focus our energies in the wrong direction. Even if the confrontational approach to school attendance resulted in perfect attendance for every student, it does nothing to address the quality of education that is delivered to our kids. Melissa’s daughter struggled with attendance primarily because of lack of interest and motivation. Her mother said, “She always hated school”. So the real question is, how do you “make” a kid love school? It won’t happen by force, you can’t force a student to love school in a court room. There is some hope that you can lead, inspire, and motivate them in the school room. What Nebraska needs is true education reform and a lot of creativity and innovation in the classroom. It’s time to stop forcing attendance and instead inspire it.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

A Trip to Pearl Harbor: Learning Outside the Classroom

In 1991, I was a high school freshman. That year, I deliberately missed 10 days of school for a cause other than illness. Under the new Nebraska truancy law, this absence would have been classified as an unexcused “family vacation.” My parents and I would have been dragged into the GOALS system to have our personal family choices analyzed by a government official.

Perhaps we wouldn’t have been prosecuted, or informed that we would be “monitored” by others with only our best interests at heart, but perhaps we would have been. In any case, living under the threat of such action is not consistent with living in a free society, and it also completely lacks common sense, as my story illustrates.

1991 was the year that marked the 50th anniversary of the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Pearl Harbor survivors from all around the country were gathering in Hawaii to commemorate the event with many days’ worth of ceremonies and events. My Grandpa had been a boatswain’s mate on the USS St. Louis on that fateful day, so my family made plans to travel with him and my Grandma to Hawaii to be part of it all.

We spent a whole year saving money and planning our 10 days. We kids each took jobs - babysitting, paper routes, whatever we could get. We had to earn enough to pay half our airfare and all our spending cash. We mapped out our schedule and all the events and sites we would visit, packing every day with so much education, it was like months of reading books. We still give my mother a hard time about that fact that we spent ten days in Hawaii, and only three hours at the beach! At 14 years old, I thought that wasn’t quite fair!

So, what did we do on this unexcused family vacation?

We learned about the agricultural industry of our country’s island state with a visit to the Dole Pineapple Fields and Factory. We experienced the exotic botanical wealth of the islands and learned about part of the ancient Hawaiian lifestyle and culture of bravery as we watched cliff divers at Waimea Falls.

We spent an entire day at the incredible Polynesian Cultural Center, where we experienced Samoan, Tongan, Hawaiian, Fijian, Tahitian, and Maori culture first-hand, weaving our own palm leaf tiaras, watching hula dancers, musicians, and islanders who shimmied up a coconut tree bare-footed. We experienced the culinary traditions of the Hawaiian islands as we ate a full luau meal, then broadened our understanding of dance and the way it is used in different cultures as we watched a spectacular showcase of the cultural dances of the Pacific islands.


We experienced first-hand the ecology of a natural reef as we spent that notorious three hours of beach time snorkeling at Hanauma Bay. A visit to Sea Life Park gave me my first experience with dolphins, orcas and an array of other sea animals. We learned about nautical physics and experienced how generations past had traveled when we spent a couple of hours sailing on one of the oldest working wooden sailing ships in the world. We learned about aeronautic physics and topography in a glider that soared above the tree-laden cliffs that plunge to the sea along the coast of Oahu.

And then there was the historical education. Along with hundreds of Pearl Harbor survivors, we attended a ceremony on the bank of the Harbor itself, with the Arizona Memorial as backdrop, where the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, spoke about the meaning of what happened on December 7. We went and stood at that sacred memorial ourselves, learning through the unmistakable spirit of the place, what no textbook could teach.

                                                   

On December 7, we boarded a bus at 5:00 a.m. to reach the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific in time for the sunrise ceremony where President George Bush, the keynote dignitary and speaker, graciously thanked the veterans on behalf of a nation, and remembered all those veterans from throughout the Pacific theater who were buried there in that holy ground.

As we attended these ceremonies, we heard the veterans themselves talk about that day. Where else could you get so many first-hand stories of such a significant part of our nation’s history? Wouldn’t any teacher be pleased if their student could take part in such an opportunity? My teachers were pleased. They sent me off on my two-week absence with my homework, and had me tell about it when I returned.


Coincidentally, we couldn’t have planned this trip for the summer, because Pearl Harbor was bombed December 7, and the commemoration events fell around that day.

The Governor keeps saying that “kids can’t learn if they’re not in school.” But in my case – and I think he would agree that this is true not only for me, but for many other families like mine in countless variations of the same story – I couldn’t have learned those things if I had been in school.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A New Class of Delinquents: Nebraska’s Heavy Handed Approach

State officials continue to believe that there is nothing wrong with putting thousands of Nebraskan families under the jurisdiction of law enforcement in the pursuit of improved school attendance. In my meetings with Nebraska lawmakers I am often challenged to show any case where an A/B student with excused absences has been prosecuted or convicted of truancy under the new law. The implication is that if no “innocent” student is prosecuted there is nothing wrong with the law.


Since the passage of the law in 2010 there has been a sharp increase in school attendance and supporters of the law see this as compelling evidence of its success. It is astonishing to me that our elected leaders can not see the simple connection between the increase of school attendance and the fear parents have of becoming entangled with law enforcement. Success that comes from instilling fear in the citizenry is not a success to be proud of.

What parents are telling me is that they are sending their little children to school sick when they would otherwise have kept them home, children with serious illnesses are just pushing through the pain and showing up to school regardless of their situation, and parents are cutting out other extracurricular absences that in the past have added to the enrichment of their children’s education and life.

It should not be surprising that examples of good students being prosecuted are rare when parents who have been pressed to “voluntarily” enter truancy diversion programs under threat of prosecution. This letter was sent to a family after they went to the press with their troubling story and described in detail the major invasions into their family life that were required of their family under the voluntary program. This family entered truancy diversion under the threat of further “action” and the possible removal of their child from their home despite the fact that their daughter had been absent for medically excused absences, was an A/B student, and well liked at her school.

The child's court appointed attorney responded to the families complaints in the press in this way: 

"As a reminder, the Truancy Court process is completely voluntary. It was explained to you as voluntary in the very beginning, and it was explained to you that at any point, should [your daughter] desire not to be in the Truancy court program, she could leave the program."
"What you need to be aware of, is that if [your daughter] leaves the program, she still faces a Truancy Court filing from the County Attorney’s Office, she would still have to appear in Court, and I have no doubt that the only way this matter would be resolved is by way of a trial. That is [your daughter's] right."
"My suggestion, in [your daughter's] interest, is to continue through the program... through its duration... so that [your daughter's] truancy case can simply be dismissed by her successful completion. Your daughter has had a tremendous decrease in her absences, even if they were all illness related in the past."


Notice the polite way the mother is told to submit to court ordered visits with social workers and other truancy diversion plans or be prosecuted. How many parents would risk prosecution and the possible removal of their child from their home faced with this choice? Families are rarely going to trial under the law because instead they voluntarily cooperate out of fear, fear of having their child removed from their home, fear that a costly trial would only end in “forced” participate in the truancy diversion programs anyway, and fear of the impact that fighting for their rights would have on their child. It does not take a “trial” to put a parent’s choices under suspicion. It does not take a conviction to send the message that you are a juvenile delinquent guilty of criminal activity.

The scrutiny and humiliation that comes as a result of the condescending attitudes of state officials, who see themselves as more qualified to discern what is best for children then their parents, is apparent when the attorney casts doubt on the parent’s judgment by saying, “Your daughter has had a tremendous decrease in her absences, even if they were all illness related in the past.” This attorney obviously sees the “tremendous” decrease in the child’s absences as proof that the parents are irresponsible and in a slight of hand way accuses the parents of lying in the past. He does not for one moment think that perhaps the change in attendance is related to the fear of legal action and otherwise not in the best interest of the child.

Judge Crnkovich, presiding judge of Douglas county truancy diversion program, told Millard parents last spring, "Don't worry," all you need is to “know the process to feel comfortable about it.” Parents are getting to know the process and as they learn more and have experience with the “process” they are becoming even more uncomfortable with it.

Mike Horton, who had firsthand experience with the process, explained it this way, “What we experienced in the jury assembly room that afternoon, was the best case for limited government I have ever witnessed… we were provided a very juvenile and condescending civics lesson by Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich and asked to sign paperwork accepting the county attorney’s recommendations.” Horton explained that if they didn’t “agree with the recommendations”… the county attorney’s office would be free to pursue additional legal action that could extend as far as the removal of his daughter from his home.

They continue to insist that families are not being "criminalized" and yet they are creating a new class of juvenile delinquents and students are being summoned to the courthouse, told they must abide by the judgment of law enforcement or face further action, and are provided with a public defender if they so choose. How can the Governor and lawmakers in Lincoln continue to act as though this law is not a heavy handed usurpation of the natural rights of parents?

Parents and students who fear “criminalization” under this law are not paranoid, in most cases they are law-abiding and understand and respect the rule of law. They have absolutely no desire to become involved with law enforcement in any way and rightly so. The paradigm shift that state authorities are asking law-abiding Nebraskans to make is unacceptable to freedom loving and family centered Nebraskans. It is a dangerous course of action to desire ordinary people to be comfortable with being summoned to appear before county commissioners, judges, and lawyers. We should not ask people to become comfortable with the process that Horton described as an “example of the coercive methods of totalitarian states.”

There is obviously a major disconnect between ordinary Nebraskans and the small group of government elites who feel that we should just "trust" in their good-old Nebraska common sense. 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 or students who are succeeding in school, despite unusual circumstances that create a lot of absences, as delinquents or criminals?

The only way to strike a balance between natural parental rights and the role of the state in education is to restore to Nebraska’s truancy law the classic definition of truancy and distinguish between excused and unexcused absences. To restore to parents the right to govern their families based on their best judgment. 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.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

A Grandmother's Wisdom

By: Linda, an Omaha Mother and Grandmother

I am not a medical professional, social worker, teacher but I am a mother of three grown sons. Our kids were in the public school and we homeschooled. Two of our sons now homeschool their children and one has his in the public system and this law certainly impacts his family. This is just one of so very many issues that impacts the family. It is overwhelming to see how quickly our rights and freedoms have been taken away and how easily Americans have let them go without a fight.

Just hearing the word 'truancy' makes me feel a little ill and takes me back to when we began homeschooling our children in the early 1980's. The state was fighting all homeschoolers by taking many to court and we had to fear going to jail.

While I do support the effort to revise the law I feel that even an amended truancy law goes to far. Since when did it become the governments job to educate my children and to criminalize me for keeping my children at home? To me the WHOLE law is a frightening government over reach. 

Should children get a good education? Absolutely, but should the government tell me how, when, where? No! The whole law is a slippery slope to government intrusion into all public, private and homeschool families. I understand that if a family has their children in a public system that there have to rules and regulations, but too many laws are taking away our rights and freedoms in the name of some 'common good'.

For now the home school battle has been won, but I in no way feel the war is over. I believe there is a battle that is still raging for the hearts and minds of our children. This battle is one of many in a war that is raging. It saddens me to see my children and grandchildren living in a world, that now more than ever, so openly accepts evil as good. I believe that the battle is a spiritual one.....a battle for the hearts, minds and souls of man. My hope is in the Lord Jesus Christ!

In the fight for the freedoms of families you have my support and prayers!

Linda Lehmer
Omaha Public Schools
Omaha, NE

The Morgan Family

by: Stephanie Morgan
2010 School Year

My son missed more school than usual last year, 16 days in total, it would have been more if I had not become aware of a new school attendance law passed unanimously in the Nebraska state legislature that put every student and their families under the jurisdiction of the courts after 20 absences regardless of the reason. On it's face that statement might lend support to the law, to prove that "excessive absenteeism" is the fault of parents who irresponsibly choose to remove their children from school. It is true that I would have removed my son for planned absences beyond the 20 day threshold had the law not made it very risky to do so, but before you judge let me explain why.

My husband was deployed in Iraq last year and it was a VERY hard year for our family and especially my 12 year old son. My son didn’t miss 20 days of school, but he would if I had followed my mother best judgement and taken my son out for a full two weeks to be with his dad when he came home half way through his deployment for R&R. Instead I ignored my best judgement and my sons needs and allowed him only a few days with his father. I was angry and hurt that this law pushed me to ignore what was best for my son in order to keep our family out of trouble with the law. Even if my son wasn't an A/B student (and he is) being with his father would have still been more important at this time in his life.


We have from time to time removed our son from school for reasons other than illness, but because of the value we place on education we have always calculated his absences to have the least educational impact. Our son is responsible for catching up on work missed and we see that he keeps up on his school work when he is away sick. He is an excellent student who is well loved by his teachers. Last semester he was awarded the citizenship award at his school, the highest award the teachers give to students at Millard North Middle. He is a self-motivated, helpful, and trustworthy boy; active in boy scouts and church and we are so proud of the young man he is becoming.

I believe that most parents make decisions in the best interest of their kids, as we would have done if we had kept him home longer to spend time with his father. It was a year of great sadness for our family and our son seriously missed his father. There was one day this school year when I kept my son home because he was emotionally ill, he had suffered a serious panic attack because of the grief he'd carried around. It was the right thing to do and I would do it again, but this type of absence from school is no longer considered justified under the new stricter attendance policies and the tough school attendance law. I ask you is it the business of the county attorney when I make a decision like this in the best interest of my child?

This new law and the expansion of it under the GOALS Initiative is a serious affront to my parental authority and my family life. It has continued to affect the way I parent. It pushes me to send my son to school sick, to spread his illness to others. It pushes me to cancel important family plans that have in the past added to the quality of my sons life and well being. When you add up hundreds of decisions like this, certainly there will be a sharp increase in school attendance, but this is more a reflection of a drastic change in good old-fashioned common sense parenting than what is in the best interest of the children.

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2011 School Year

I thought this year would be an easy one for us to keep absences down, now that my husband is home from Iraq, but life is unpredictable and already the anxiety of this law is affecting my parenting once again. Last year my husband and I sacraficed precious time together when my husband was home for a two week break for R&R and when he returned home from a year and a half deployment in Iraq. Instead of removing our son from school for some good quality family time, we took him out for only a couple days so that we would not exceed the 20 day threshold that would have landed us before the county attorney. Our sacrafice was not in the best interest of our son or the family, it was not made because of concern for our son's academic life which is strong, but rather it was made to avoid any possible entanglement with law enforcement under Nebraska's new truancy law.

I was sick and angry over the way this law impacted my family life last year, not because I was hauled into court and prosecuted, but because I sacraficed my child's emotional well being to keep us out of the court house. This will probably surprise some of you who think of me as a tenacious warrior who doesn't back down, but it is a serious thing to consider that standing on your principles will constitute "civil disobedience" and could result in legal action against you and your child. It is a huge risk that very few parents are willing to make which is the reason the law has caused a sharp rise in attendance rates in the first year.

This year I committed myself to work to amend Nebraska's school attendance law, to restore the classic definition of truancy which honors a parents authority to discern when an absence from school is in the best interest of their child. That leaves the power in the hands of parents and principles rather than lawyers and judges. I felt relieved that I would be taking on this "battle" with my husband by my side, in a year that I thought would be routine, at a time when I assumed it would be easy to keep school absences at a minimum. I was wrong. 

Already my son has been absent six times for common illnesses and we are not half way through the year. I thought last year was a bad season for colds and flues but this year is shaping up to be worse. Some of my friends are convinced that this is because more parents are sending their kids to school sick because of the truancy law. I remained pretty calm about the absences, confident that we wouldn't reach the 20 days this year if I just avoid any days off for travel. That was until a few weeks ago when my mother-in-law became very ill. We began discussing planned absences that our family may need in order to visit and care for grandma. 

When I got my son's last report card, I was again reminded of the major shift in thinking that has taken place because of this law. Attendance is now the first thing on the report card, it sits in its place of prominence and importance above the grades. It is reported in a detailed chart that counts every hour of school missed. This report indicated that my son had been absent 6 days so far this year, that means via our school district policy he is an excessively absent student! Below the attendance summary was the Grade report. My excessively absent student has 9 A's and 2 B's. I wonder which they care about more, his attendance record or his grades?

So my calm confidence that this year would be different and worry free has melted away and I feel the concern setting in over this law once again. To take the burden off of my mother-in-law and provide the traditional family thanksgiving we traveled to Iowa a day early so that I could cook the meal in advance. We removed our son from school the day before Thanksgiving, adding one more absence to our sons "count". 

This absence is considered an unexcused absence under our school districts new tougher attendance policy, changed in 2011 in order to "comply" with the "Superintendents Plan for Improving School Attendance". There is now no "justifiable" reason for a parent to remove their child from school for travel unless the student is attending a family funeral or wedding. So in this case, my son who is absent to be of service to his family and ill grandmother will be absent from school without excuse despite the fact that he has my permission and I communicated the reason for his absence to the school. Had I lied to the school and said he was ill the absence would have been excused, but then I would have taught my son to lie, which I will not do! He can be excused from school to attend a grandparents funeral, but not to be with a Grandparent who is still living. Where is the sense in that?

While in Iowa my family caught a ugly cold, chest congestion and scary cough, not to mention the fatigue and general "under the weather" feelings that accompany this kind of viral sickness. I was sick myself on Thanksgiving and the several days following, but my son and my toddler caught the illness just as we returned home. Monday my son was supposed to return to school after his long break but was too sick to go, I hoped that he would be better in order to return on Tuesday, but I knew from my own experience with the cold that it was unlikely. So, I began to feel anxious about the situation. He had 7 absences at this point, one more would be 8, and three or four months of flu season ahead.

To compound the problem, my mother in law faces a life threatening surgery that in the best case will be followed by many months of difficult recovery. She will need my assistance and making arrangements for me to have some weeks available for her care and still insure that my son doesn't miss any school is going to be extremely tricky.

With the uncertainty that faces us, my husband and I were very nervous to keep our son home from school despite his obvious symptoms and need to recover. We were contemplating sending him to school ill, not because of failing grades or concern for his academic well being, but instead because this "school attendance" law that has the potential of landing our family in court.

I have for months written about the pit falls of this law, the negative effects it will have on family life, parenting, and the well being of children, but when it hits home, when it becomes personal, it is a disturbing feeling. I am sick with this feeling that I am "breaking the law" when I do what is best for my family. I am sick when I even think of turning away from my motherly instincts to care for my sick son in order to "comply" with the law. I wonder if I am engaging in "civil disobedience" when I pull my son from school to travel to Iowa during this time of family need. I ask myself if I am being responsible risking entanglement with law enforcement and the heart ache of intrusive interventions into our family life. 

My husband and I spent an evening discussing what we should do, what is right. In the end, we decide after a night of coughing, to let our son sleep to take another sick day. Under the school districts new attendance policy if a child stays home three consecutive days in a row the parents must get a doctors note or the absences will be counted "unexcused". So when Wednesday came and I knew he could have used another day to recuperate after another sleepless night of coughing I sent him to school anyway, this time to avoid the cost of going to the doctor (knowing full well there was nothing they could do for him) to get a doctors note.

I certainly hope that we won't reach the 20 day threshold, I certainly hope the our school social worker will judge wisely and not choose to "intervene" before the 20 day mark, that she won't refer us to the GOALS team, but there is no guarantee. It is a risk, just being a parent, just caring for my family based on our best judgement is a risk. It has become risky to be a parent in Nebraska, to raise a family here, and I find myself among those who have contemplated moving to a state that still honors a parents right to excuse their child from school.

Stephanie Morgan
Millard School District
Omaha, NE

Monday, October 10, 2011

The Governor’s Message in OWH Interview

Does More schooling = More success?

Governor Heineman laid out his vision for providing a quality education for every child in this Sunday’s Omaha World Herald article, and stood by his “truancy legislation” as a key piece in his agenda. We can all agree that quality education is where we should start to address high-school drop-out rates, academic failure, and preventing further penetration into the juvenile justice system. Where we diverge with the Governor is with his insistence that this aggressive re-write of school attendance policy is the answer.

He has cast a wide net over every student and every family from Kindergarten to High School Seniors, has completely removed a parent’s role to judge what an appropriate absence is, and has mandated the reporting of all students to the county attorney, shifting discretion over school attendance to lawyers and judges and away from parents and principals. In the words of an Elkhorn mother, Kori Radloff, “It seems really backward that our means of keeping ’truant’ kids from becoming entangled with the law is to entangle them with the law.”

All of this has been done in response to what some state officials have defined as a “truancy crisis,” because only a true crisis could warrant the total “oversight” of parents by state agencies in every school district state wide. When you look at the numbers they cast doubt on the notion. Nebraska graduation rate ranks 6th in the Nation at 90.03% compared to the national average of 74.9%. This rate is much higher in many districts across the state. For example, Millard Public School has a 98% graduation rate. The statewide attendance rate in 2010 was 94.76%, with just under 7% of all students missing 20 or more days. This means that 93% of Nebraska students missed fewer than twenty days. So where’s the crisis?

The Governor accurately defined the real problem when he said, “We have to do something about kids who are underperforming. How can you look a kid in the eye, walking across the stage, and tell them 'Congratulations, you just graduated our high school and you can't read.” He focused on discrepancies in standardized test scores between OPS and outlying and rural districts, and said the state’s “African-American achievement gap is one of the worst in the country”. This is unacceptable, but if we’re going to solve these serious problems we need a more creative, targeted approach.


The studies I have reviewed that link truancy to educational attainment also conclude that low academic achievement could just as well cause truancy as be one of its effects. If a student struggles academically and is failing they are more likely to escape the classroom and choose instead to hit the streets. Truants in secondary schools said they skipped school because they were bored. We can’t just force a student to sit at their desk and expect that it will fix the problem. The problem is not attendance; attendance is the symptom.

A study by the National Bureau of Economic Studies compared a variety of components that produce improved educational outcomes and concluded that “there is limited evidence on the effect of classroom instructional time.” They found that “the productivity of instructional time is higher in countries that implemented school accountability measures, and in countries that give schools autonomy in hiring and firing teachers.”

Unfortunately the Governor has not put forward any bold plans to increase the quality of learning time in the existing school day. A truancy by University of Glasgow, reported that the impact of absence was dependent in large part on the “pupil’s ability and motivation.” So the real questions we should be asking is not how to we force kids to be in school but how do we motivate them to be there. It is not surprising that students get bored when as studies show students are on task for about a third of the hours spent in school. These findings suggest that a focus on improving the delivery and quality of instruction would be a better investment than lengthening the school day or elaborate measures to address truancy.

My interest was piqued when Governor Heineman reported that 2,500 of the students referred to the county attorney under the new truancy law were in K-3. These are 4 to 8 year olds. This is worthy of closer examination. A significant portion of the 2,500 K-3 don’t fall under the state’s mandatory attendance law. They certainly aren’t the students Sen. Amanda McGill spoke of when she said, “If a person's child is walking the streets during the school day and getting involved with a gang, don't you think the parent should be held accountable in some way?” The Governor said that this group was of particular concern to him because at this age parents are entirely responsible for the absences. It was for this age group that lawmakers believed it was necessary to have “oversight” in all cases, including when absences were excused by parents. Out of concern for our smallest students, the governor asked, "What's going on there?"

Any mother knows the answer; they're little children! They get sick more often, recovery is more difficult, and they can't handle going to school with even minor illnesses the way older kids can. They are mentally exhausted by longer and longer school days, and the ever increasing testing demands by state and federal agendas. They play less and less for kids their age, and it is easier for parents to keep them home and still keep them current on their work than it would be with older kids.

In addition to the Governor’s usual comments on school attendance, he discussed "instructional time" as another needed change in our state. The Governor told the World Herald that “We need a longer school day and a longer school year… God forbid we add 10 minutes to the school day and impact some football practice.”

He’s on the federal conveyor belt that is currently driven by Arne Duncan, President Obama’s education secretary, who was totally serious when he said: "The days of telling kids to go home at 2:30 and having mom there with a peanut butter sandwich, those days are gone." In all seriousness it is Duncan’s preference that our kids spend “12, 13, 14 hours a day, seven days a week, 11-12 months of the year.”

Families have already felt the pinch of longer school days this year. Districts city wide have increased the length of their school days to compete for state funding under the “instruction time allowance” rule. That rule requires school districts to keep their "instructional hours" above the state average or loose state funding. The obvious result of the rule is the continual lengthening of school days and school years. The increase of time in most cases was added to the elementary school day, putting more pressure on our smallest students.

From the Governor’s interview, it is clear that he is listening to only one set of experts who believe that our schools would be leading the world if our kids started school younger, were in school longer each day, and had 100% attendance throughout the year. These experts hold up high ranking European and Asian school systems as an example.

While it is true that kids in many other countries have more school days; it's not true they all spend more time in school. Kids in the U.S. spend more hours in school (1,146 instructional hours per year) than do kids in the Asian countries that persistently outscore the U.S. on math and science tests -- Singapore (903), Taiwan (1,050), Japan (1,005) and Hong Kong (1,013). That is despite the fact that Taiwan, Japan and Hong Kong have longer school years (190 to 201 days) than does the U.S. (180 days).

In Finland, which routinely leads the world in assessments of literacy, math, and science, children don’t start formal schooling until age 7—and then they only attend half days. Compared to countries like the U.S. or the United Kingdom, children in Finland spend less time overall in school and rank first in the world on standardized test.

In 2010 the Herald reported that, "An initial comparison found that the [Millard] district's elementary school pupils, while meeting the state standard, spent the fewest hours in school of any students in the 11 learning community districts in the Omaha metropolitan area." Yet their scores were significantly higher. Why is that if there's a direct correlation between time at a desk and educational results?

More school is not the answer for all of Nebraska’s kids. A hard look at the data shows that the age at which kids should start school and the amount of school they need for success differs significantly between socio-economic and ethnic groups. In analyzing the research that has been done on the topic, it’s evident that delayed school entry can have a negative impact on low-income and minority children, and a positive influence on middle class children.

In Wisconsin’s McFarland School District, parents can choose between regular kindergarten, transitional kindergarten, and Just Five classes. Now in its seventh year of operation, Just Five is a half-day class for children who aren’t quite ready for a full-day kindergarten. It has proven successful. Both Everson and Weisberg estimate that about half of their students go on to first grade the following year, while the rest opt for another year of kindergarten. By then, many of the children are developmentally ready to tackle the increased academic demands placed on them, and they’ve got the social skills and confidence to be successful.

A 2007 report by the American Academy of Pediatrics addresses the damage done by the modern pressures of ever increasing instructional time and higher educational standards and the importance of self-directed child play and personal free time for kids and youth. It specifically addressed the impact of an increased focus on the fundamentals of academic preparation in lieu of a broader view of education among middle class youth who have plenty of opportunity for constant activity. Those forces that prevent children in poverty and the working class from benefiting fully from play deserve full, even urgent, attention, but that was not the focus of this report.

The report states that "the national trend, to focus on the academic fundamentals of reading and arithmetic, spearheaded by No Child Left Behind, has decreased time left during the school day for recess, creative arts, and physical education." Compound that with extended hours in after-school programs that emphasize academics, the hours of unsupervised video gaming and constant T.V. and you have a recipe for a nation that cannot create, work, or think.

It has become an "established fact" by these same experts that our kids need more "instructional time”. They need to be "schooled" at ever younger ages. They need to be in school longer each day and throughout the year. And they shouldn't miss more than a few days of school lest they "fall behind"!

Reliance on the expert opinions of educators of the past has led the Federal Department of Education to drown our kids in testing, cheat them of this critical development, and squelch their love of learning and self-motivation. I think it’s time we get off this national conveyor belt and start focusing on the root causes of educational failure that lead kids to miss school habitually and puts them “at-risk” of dropping out.

The Holmes Family

My daughter, Grace, attended Millard North High School when she was in 9th grade. She is now a 12th grader and has moved out of state.

She was a 4.0 student, a member of the Nebraska Olympic Development Program (she played soccer), and selected as one of the top 100 players in the country at 14. She traveled with her regional Olympic Development team to Costa Rica, Holland and attended several national events in the states.


All these events meant absences from school. She continued to maintain a 4.0 average through the entire academic year. Her Honors English teacher at Millard North threatened to fail her due to absences. At the time she had a 98% in the class.

Her absences were due to her pursuit of excellence in her sport and her efforts to represent Nebraska in the US and Internationally. For that she was rewarded with constant hassles from her school.

I went round and round with the Millard administrators. The Superintendent threatened to report me and our daughter to the Douglas County Attorneys office due to the number of absences. I reiterate, she was a straight A student enrolled in honors classes and the IB program.

At the end of her 9th grade school year, I said enough and enrolled her in a more cooperative school district. That was the end of her academic career at Millard North. I do all that I can to inform any interested parent of my belief that Millard Public Schools leaves much to be desired in their approach to individual family situations. I encourage all who ask me to seek out other more accommodating school districts. While my children received a good education at Millard, it is my opinion that school administrators are punitive and do not support children such as my daughter.

Laura McCormick Holmes
Millard Public Schools
Omaha, NE

The Brandquist Family: In court for being tardy

My son, Andrew, had excessive “tardies” last year which converted to absences over time. Eight weeks of this was due to having mono (which was not diagnosed until December and was at the end of its duration). The school had said they were going to take off (or record differently) tardies during those months. I had numerous conversations/emails/meetings with the principal, asst principal, counselors, and the on-site representative in charge of sending cases to juvenile court.

On my own, I had reached out the school counselor and the school social worker, but I was told there was nothing they could do as Andrew did not fit the criteria for any additional services. I had also been in contact Boystown numerous times to discuss strategies at home to correct what had now become a habit of over-sleeping. We disciplined our son with grounding, losing all outside school privileges, removing the door of his bedroom, and taking his driving privileges away other than for school purposes – all to no avail.

I understand that kids like mine need help, that services outside my home might help him overcome his challenges, but how does ending up in court help? My school never offered me any help. At the mandatory meeting held in August, “truant” kids were brought forward one by one for review at which time some kids were given little cards that had to be signed by each teacher every day. I was simply told that they “did not know what to do” for Andrew and they would decide later. No later ever came. The next thing we knew, we were summoned to court.

I can understand getting juvenile court involved in a kids life when they are deliberately skipping school, leaving or not showing up the entire day, committing crimes or other problems, and being completely uncooperative with school authorities and their parents. But my son is a smart kid, in marching band and never in any kind of trouble at school. He is not a juvenile delinquent. While I understand his tardies are a problem, it is a problem I am actively working to solve with little help from my school. All in all, he ended the year with 23 total absences and passed the 11th grade.

At our first court hearing we sat patiently as it was explained to us that Andrew was not being charged with a crime. This was confusing, as we were given a detailed description of his rights and a lesson on what happens “if his case goes to trial”. For a person not being charged with a crime, it certainly felt like they were reading his rights and preparing him for “trial”. They asked our son some basic questions about the cause of his tardies but we, his mom and dad, were never asked questions. It was decided that our son should meet with a Probation officer. WHAT? I was floored, I thought this was not a criminal trial, why would he need probation to “help” with his habit?

My husband questioned them about the August meeting, and why we were never contacted. He was told that they were overwhelmed with cases and people were working nights and weekends with limited resources. NO KIDDING-just one more reason why this plan makes no sense. Even the judge admitted that there was no real process in place, especially for such cases like our son’s. I couldn’t help but think ---“So, why not dismiss the case?”

I was so frustrated that every time I asked for help, direction, or suggestions the response was “ there is nothing we can do”. This plan sits on a foundational idea that the courts are “problem solvers” but still they have no answers for us. I am appauled that they would decide on Probation for a kid who over-slept?? What a complete waste of time and taxpayers money.

When we went back to court I was so proud of my son! He represented himself very well. He confidently corrected the county attorney when he said he missed 53 days of school. Besides the tardies he only missed 6 full days of school. He made a point of his academic achievements, commented on his GPA, class rank, and told the court that he was only 3 credit hours from graduation. He told them that he holds down 2 jobs, is in the school varsity band, and holds a section leadership role in band. He said, "I think probation and random UA's which the county attorney is requesting is unreasonable".

The judge then made some very odd comments. She said my son must be very angry about being in court. She then began searching for some explination for his good grades and other academic successes inspite of his habitual tardies. She postulated out loud that my son must be a really good test taker or his teachers must really like him for him to pull off good grades last year with ALL those absences. I couldn’t believe the arrogance.

They simply can't believe there are good students out there whose attendance record is less than exemplary. They can't think outside the box, and the courts have NO experience with the wide range of students that are now "truant" under the law, kids who would have never seen the inside of the court house before they changed the definition of truancy.

My son didn't let them go down that path, he simply smiled and said, no, I'm not angry at all. The county attorney then took damaging information they had gathered at his probation meeting a few weeks prior and began to grill him. He simply answered the questions truthfully. I think they were simply frustrated that this 17 year old was not going to let them make him out to be something he simply is not. We were very pleased when his case was dropped. What a waste! My son got some kind of education out of it, but not the kind you’d hope for.

Melissa Brandquist
Omaha Public Schools
Omaha, NE

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Q&A: Frequently Asked Questions

Questions & Answers: These questions are collected from Facebook discussions and emails. You may have asked these same questions at some point. Here is what you need to know!


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Question: Does this new truancy law apply to private schools?

Answer: Private Schools that are accredited have to report attendance data and report to the county attorney at 20 days; But they more often use their discretion (their ability to recommend how the county attorney should handle the case) to protect the family then do the public schools. Unlike some public school districts private schools may not be defining "excessive absenteeism" as aggressively. The law only requires that they define excessive absenteeism as five days missed in one quarter and may decide whether those days will be excused or unexcused. So in the case of a private school they may decide to use the most flexible definition and say a student is excessively absent when they miss five unexcused days from school in one quarter (anyone would agree that is excessive I think). Then they are free to define what and unexcused absence is and may do so in a much more flexible way as well.

Public schools could also do this per the law, but choose to be far more strict, as you experienced! Districts in the Omaha Learning Community attribute this to the law, because LB 463 mandated the creation of the "Superintendent's Plan for Improving School Attendance" also known as the GOALS Initiative. Under this intralocal agreement the 11 school districts in the Learning Community entered a binding cooperation that has as one of its goals the streamlining of school attendance policy throughout the learning community. So for example MPS has defined excessive absences as 5 absences in one year for any reason allowing them the maximum latitude in "early intervention" under the GOALS plan.

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Question: What happens if you pull your children out of school to home school? Do they show up at your front door and haul you off to jail?

Answer: The Law states: "Where a juvenile is adjudicated solely on the basis of habitual truancy from school…and the status of truancy is subsequently terminated by the lawful execution of a parental release authorizing discontinuation of school…a juvenile court may terminate its jurisdiction without a finding that such termination is in the best interests of the juvenile."

This means that if the child's only offense is truancy, then the truancy case must be dropped when the parents sign the parental release authorizing the disenrollment of their child from school. There is one exception. The county attorney can place an injunction if he/she determines there is reason to believe that the parents choice constitutes educational neglect.


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Question: “I'd love to know why my child's name and information has to be sent to the state attorney after 10 absences/tardies regardless of documentation. What happens to this information after it's determined that she is indeed suffering from a medical condition that results in absences, tardies, and being sent home early? Is there some sort of permanent record entry on our family for reference if her siblings are also absent frequently? I'm not entirely sure anyone has considered the full legality of this law beyond "a few" good people getting caught up in a net.”

Answer: Yes, after 10 days a report is filed with the county attorney. Information regarding the reasons and details surrounding the absences is also given to the “Truancy Task Force”, they use this information to “triage” cases based on “need”. I do not know how long this information is filed at the county attorney or how it is used in the future. In the construction of any law we should be sure to follow the long held American juris prudence that it is “better that ten guilty person’s escape than that one innocent suffer.”

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Question: “Dr Lutz said that it won't affect those with excused absences, Gov Heineman said "common sense" will be used. Where? Where is it used in this law?”

Answer: There are several levels of intervention in the law, school building level, district level, goals level, county attorney level, and if none of these address the “problem” then prosecution can be used at the discretion of the county attorney.

When Dr. Lutz is talking of “excused absences” he is talking about step 3 and 4 of GOALS in the Superintendents plan. This level is a referral to state agencies through the construct of the GOALS team, and will only happen when a student is absent 5 days without excuse in one year. This does not mean that every student with five unexcused absences will be referred to GOALS, this means that if the school believes that the absenteeism is “problematic” and it meets the threshold of 5 unexcused absences in one year, they can refer the student and their family to the GOALS team after they have exhausted all building level and district level interventions. It is during this process as well as the “truancy triage” at the county attorney level after 20 days that the Governor is asking us to trust the “Good-old Nebraska Common Sense” of state officials.

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Question: “How is it that with ALL my daughter’s absences being excused I could still find myself before a truancy judge?”

Answer: For the purposes of “criminal truancy” there is no distinction in the law between excused and unexcused absences, and despite the assurance of state officials that “NO” children who have excused absences will be prosecuted, it is still wrong that they fall under the jurisdiction and discretion of the county attorney at all. It is in their “Good-old Nebraska Common Sense” that we have been asked to trust. Despite that there are families with excused absences being prosecuted and many more that entered truancy diversions for fear of further legal actions would be taken against them, and those who are told they will be monitored feel that they have stepped into a foreign film where law-abiding citizens are monitored by the state when no “crime” has been committed.

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Question: When I was reading the highlighted area of the definition of an at risk youth in one part of the law, it says absent from school for more than 5 days per year. When I looked at another part of the law it said more than 5 days per quarter. So which is it?

Answer: Laws are complicated, let me try to explain: (1) The Law mandates "All school districts shall have a written policy on excessive absenteeism developed in collaboration with the county attorney" and then sets an absolute minimum requirement for that policy. That requirement is "five days per quarter or the hourly equivalent", excused or unexcused. It leaves school districts free to craft their own definition of “excessive absenteeism" within this parameter. For example, the most liberal a school district could define "excessive absenteeism" and begin early "interventions" described, is five unexcused absences in one quarter. The districts are free to define it much tougher than that if they choose, but that is the minimum. MPS for example went far beyond this required minimum in their policy when they defined a student as being "excessively absent" when they were absent five days from school in one year for any reason.

In this section the law applies to all schools statewide, and is meant to provide them flexibility in how they define "excessive absenteeism" and how and when they intervene because of it. The point at which the school no longer has flexibility is when the 20 day threshold is reached. The law states, “If the child is absent more than twenty days per year or the hourly equivalent, the attendance officer shall file a report with the county attorney.” SHALL FILE, means they must file no matter the reason for the absences.

The statute that defines “at-risk” youth was added to the law in 2011, and is targeted at the Omaha Learning Community only. This statute is responsible for the creation of the Superintendent’s Plan for Improving School Attendance and the GOALS Initiative which is a mechanism for early and aggressive intervention for “at-risk” youth before the 20 day threshold is met. In essence if you live in one of the eleven school districts mandated under the law to participate in this plan, then your district’s flexibility is limited by the mandate that they participate in the plan agreed upon by interlocal agreement between law enforcement, HHS, and the schools. Under this plan if a student is absent five days in one year without excuse by school authorities (under their district policy), then they can be referred to the GOALS team, a multi-disciplinary team comprised of representatives from juvenile county court, HHS, and Law Enforcement. This allows local and state authorities to intervene before the twenty day threshold when they determine that absences are “problematic”. It is subjective and this designation is determined by a series of assessments at the school, district, and county level. This plan relies on the “hammer” added to the law in 2010 that states that, “Nothing in this section shall preclude a county attorney from being involved at any stage in the process to address excessive absenteeism." Which allows the GOALS team to threaten families with further legal action if they do not cooperate, because the law states that the county attorney can be brought in at any level of the process he does not have to wait for the 20 day threshold.

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Clarifications Needed: 
  • The 10 absence mark is not the point of at which a child is a status offender under the mandatory education law. What happens at 10 days in a letter is sent from the school to the county attorney as a first report of “problematic absenteeism”. This is very concerning to “law abiding” Nebraskans like the Slingwines, to have a file opened up on their family at the county attorney’s office. It is also true that the law provides county attorney’s the power to “become involved at any stage in the process of addressing excessive absenteeism”, but they would only do so with the urging of school authorities. If you’re a favorite at your school you probably have nothing to worry about until 20 days. 
  • If all of the absences were excused under school district policy then you will not go before any state authorities until your student has missed 20 days. The school can refer students if they exhibit signs of “problematic absenteeism” and it is true that the law does give the county attorney the power to intervene at any stage, but with the hundreds of cases they already deal with on a weekly basis they are only going to pursue those cases that the schools insist need scrutiny. Also, remember that you school district must exhaust all school level and district level interventions before they can refer you to the GOALS team, and they can’t refer you to the GOALS team until you have five unexcused absence in one year (that was the change we were able to influence last year.) 
  • The only way a parent would end up with a criminal record is if they were charged by the county attorney with “educational neglect”, a child neglect charge, and were convicted in a court of law. Children will only have a criminal record if they are charged and convicted of “truancy”. 
  • Sen. Amanda McGill serves on the judiciary committee, and I assure you that as part of that service she not only read the bill, but she was very familiar with it. She, like all the other senators who voted for the bill the first time around, believed that the bills intent was to target “at-risk” youth and to provide “services” to those children before the point of “no return”. This is the statement of intent for the law and committee hearing report: (http://nfpf.blogspot.com/2011/10/nebraska-attendance-law-statement-of.html
  • Voting Record: In 2010 when LB 800 was passed, it was passed with all voting yes and only one abstention; Sen. Janson. In 2011, when we brought our concerns to the legislature, Tony Fulton was the only senator who took a hard look at the law, realized the problem, apologized for voting for it, admitted it was a mistake, and committed himself to changing the law to protect the basic rights of parents. Then when the 2011 expansion of the law came up for a vote under LB 463, all except Fulton and Janson voted for it again. 

A Facebook Discussion with Senator McGill

My Response to Senator McGill’s Comments on the Facebook Thread: 

Senator Amanda McGill: “The law is intended to get to children who are absent for less legitimate reasons. Studies show repeated truancy is the first sign that a child could be going down the wrong path. Since the law, truancy is down very significantly. You are right that we need to create a system that better differentiates between types of absences, but I stand by the need for early truancy intervention.”

My Response: The new statute has removed the classic definition of “truancy” and replaced the discussion of “truancy” with a discussion of “school attendance” across the board. Absences are down since the introduction of this law, to be sure. It is not surprising with so many parents afraid to be seen as irresponsible and even criminal. This law is reducing absence, not necessarily truancy, and the distinction is key. When I hear “repeated truancy”, I interpret that to mean a student who is habitually truant, who is skipping school without permission, and who is falling behind academically. Prior to the 2010 we had a “system” that differentiated between types of absences, and now we have one that lumps everyone together and disregards the distinction of excused absences. This change has lead to nearly all the problems we have seen with the law, but during deliberations on the original 2010 legislation this change was seen as the corner stone of the plan. It was hailed as a triumph to remove this distinction, so that the schools and attorneys could have “oversight in all cases”, and they could have the total discretion to determine what is a “less legitimate reasons” for missing school.

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Senator Amanda McGill: “Sadly, not all parents are the good parents that you are. If a person's child is walking the streets during the school day and getting involved with a gang, don't you think the parent should be held accountable in some way?”

My Response: If the kid is walking the streets during school and involved in gang activity than this would fall under the classic definition of “truancy”, being absent from school without permission. This would fall under the law even if we distinguished between excused and unexcused in the law. Here I agree with Melanie Williams-Smotherman, “Good parents - which are the vast majority - must not be threatened with DHHS, the county attorney, a judge and a record, simply because a comparative few are struggling.” (Read: Inconvenient Truths: School Attendance Crisis)

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Senator Amanda McGill: “I would be happy to discuss tweaks to this law, but I do not believe in throwing it out… This problem may not be prevalent in your school, but it is in others.”

My Response: There are many parents who are so angry about this law and have been so adversely affected by it that in their passion and anger they call for the total repeal of the law. I as the moderator of the NFPF have called for specific solutions that both preserve the intent of the law while protecting families and eliminating the type of problems we have seen this past year. The most important change being a restoration of the classic definition of truancy, and as a way to provide earlier intervention a tighter threshold of unexcused days then our state had previously would provide an earlier point of intervention for truly "at-risk" youth. Most importantly it protects those with excused absences via school district policy so that they are never referred to the county attorney.

As the senator said, the problem is more prevalent in some schools than others. For example, Millard, which has a 96% attendance rate and out of the 3000 truancy cases last year only 400 were from Millard. And yet, Millard has rewritten their school district attendance policy to very strict, far beyond what the law requires; while OPS, where the majority of these cases originate, is not even following the law. It is because of the variety among districts that the problem would be better handle in by local districts rather than mandated from Lincoln.

Melanie Smotherman’s perspective on this topic also deserved important consideration: My son graduated from Omaha North High School (which is probably one of the schools Sen. McGill is referring to when she says "others." He was an honor student and received two full scholarships to college, in addition to the Fine Arts scholarship. Should we be victimized just because he happens to go to a particular school? The answer isn't to crudely label or stigmatize schools or school districts which happen to have more poor students enrolled - and therefore more struggling parents and kids whose opportunities aren't only being limited by absences from school, but in many other ways caused by severe socio-economic challenges. 

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Senator Amanda McGill: “I am probably the only senator who has taken the time to read this form and reply at all. Like I said, I'm open to some changes that would help responsible families. If you have specific changes other than throwing out the entire legislation, feel free to email me.”

My Response: It is a sign of great concern and character to enter the bear’s den and take on the anger of parents. The "momma bears" in this den can bite, and for her efforts, Sen McGill wins points with me. I appreciate hearing from any senator who says they are willing to be open to changes that will protect families. The NFPF has very specific changes in mind. We hope Sen. McGill will still be willing to meet with us and work to make needed changes to this law. I agree with Melanie Williams-Smotherman that the vast majority of Nebraska families are “responsible families” and that the problem the legislation attempts to address in a state wide fashion is not the crisis it has been made out to be in the halls of the capital.

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Constructive Thoughts that came out of the Facebook Discussion:

Anne Slingwine “It’s too bad that lawmakers like Amanda don't want to actually acknowledge that they passed some bad legislation. I wish they would own it, say oops, whatever and then fix it. They like to keep passing the buck”

My Response: Like Anne those of us who have worked hard for changes to this law over the last year and followed our efforts have had a disappointing civics lesson. Unfortunately, most of our elected representatives have turned blind eyes and deaf ears to the concerns of parents. We have all been treated to the run around that we now realize is the “pass the buck” way of politics. We are regular citizens, moms, and “good-old Nebraskans” and sadly this has made cynics of us all.

I believe that the faulty nature of this legislation is in part a product of Nebraska’s unicameral system. The system is not patterned after the wisdom of our founders and in many ways it fails to serve Nebraskans as it should. We send our legislators to work for five months a year, pay them practically nothing, and then push a year’s worth of legislation through one governing body with no real checks or balances. It is a system perfectly designed for passing rough draft legislation rather than a more polished final product.

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Elizabeth Botkin: “I oppose this law as yet another "victim" of it, but I believe Sen. Amanda McGill is correct in not wanting to entirely throw it out. The law needs a redefinition of "truancy" to its original meaning -- unexcused absence from school -- and provisions to protect children who are absent due to chronic illness, activities, and family events/emergencies.”

My Response: I agree with Elizabeth and I also believe from talking to a great number of parents about the law that her opinion represents the majority. What I hear parents saying is that they should be free to discern when their child has a common illness and should miss school, they should be free to discern when a family event should take precedence over class time, they should be free to allow their children to take part in enrichment activities outside of the school curriculum, and they should be free to decide what warrants an emergency. To regain these freedoms which have been removed from the hands of parents with this new attendance law, not only are amendments to the law needed, but parents will need to demand changes at their school board/district level.

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Anne Slingwine: “Amanda and everyone in Lincoln are accountable to US. If I ask a question about a bill that they read or didn't read, that they voted in favor of or against, I have an absolute right to have my question answered honestly and without rhetoric…. When we try to seek clarification, we are given a run around… I can't let my family suffer on principle... I am not willing to take that chance.”

My Response: What Anne expresses here reflects the feelings of all the friends and supporters of NFPF, especially those who have been following this legislation throughout the last year. Americans across the nation are beginning to lose patience with politics as usual and the arrogance of politicians who act as thought they are not accountable to the people. I like Anne, cannot let my children suffer and if it comes to it I also will be driven to home school, because I am not willing to take the chance. I value my family’s freedom too much to just sit by and let it disappear in the name of those less fortunate youth.

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Elizabeth Botkin: “In the future, we should probably make sure we address any officials properly with the title(s) accorded to them and keep our words objective. Yes, we're all ticked off by this law and how it affects us and others, but it's no reason to abandon proper etiquette. Regardless of how we feel about the law, these people were elected by us and for us, so they deserve at least some respect due their position.”

My Response: Elizabeth’s advice is good and sound, and we will need each other to help curb our passions to be successful. It is a hard thing to temper passions, but it must be done if we are to be successful, it is a learning process for all of us political novices. I hope that our lawmakers will be patient with our inexperience and understanding of our passion.

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In Conclusion:

By: Autumn Cook: 

“Senator McGill is one of the most caring legislators in the Nebraska legislature. She does care about what we have to say, Anne. Please don't be so attacking and condescending toward her.

“Sen. McGill, as I've studied this law, I've come to think that the most dangerous fallacy caring people can fall into here is to think that it's justifiable to trample on the rights of many good people when it will allow the few neglected to be helped. Another is that reducing absences is equivalent to reducing truancy. Absences are down since the introduction of this law, to be sure. But that's all too often because the many responsible families in Nebraska are choosing not to visit grandma, not to take that planned trip out of the country, not to attend Uncle Bill's recognition ceremony in D. C., not to let junior stay home from school even though he has a thick cough and runny nose. These are good students who've never had to worry about government oversight and, most importantly, have never been at risk of dropping or failing. This law is reducing absence, not necessarily truancy, and the distinction is key.”

“Stephanie has very specific changes for the law that would target truly at-risk kids, while protecting the rights of Nebraska families in a way that preserves the diversity of successful people - accomplished athletes who compete outside school; musicians who travel to perform and study with prominent teachers; religious families who travel for mission opportunities; outstanding academics who enrich their educations through non-school-sponsored programs and competitions; budding leaders who succeed in nationally-recognized programs that take place outside of school facilitation; and families with chronically sick kids who still do well by traditional measures: grades. The law as it's currently written targets and punishes these students.”

“Our changes would restore their rights to a vibrant, non-school-sponsored education and protect their personal family choices, while identifying and getting mentors to the kids who lack adult inspiration in their lives. The latter are the ones who actually become delinquents in connection with their absences, right? The former are no more likely to drop out and rob a store because they missed 22 days of school than they would be if they missed two. That's the distinction we need to get into the law.”

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Stephanie Morgan:

I believe we can preserving some of what the state has already created while casting a smaller more specific net. 1.) Make a clear separation between the process by which schools handle "excessive absenteeism", the missing of school excessively with excuse; and how the state addresses "truancy", the missing of school without excuse. 2.) Leave the GOALS team in place, but as the beginnings of a more effective "Truancy Mentor" program, similar to Memphis D.A. Program; TN set the threshold for a "truant" at five unexcused days in one quarter, when a student was referred to the D.A. for being truant they were not immediately prosecuted instead they and their parents were encouraged to enter the "D.A. Mentor" program. Which like our GOALS program made use of community partners and even faith based organizations and many other services to stop the "truant" behavior (remember this is skipping school). 3.) This plan would be about law enforcement tracking unexcused absences and schools tracking other absences.

Legislation would:

Defines excessive absenteeism as (1) missing school for any reason that exceeds the number of the days allowed in the district policy, (2) While it seeks to address the problem of excessive absenteeism it does not criminalize it. (3) All action or intervention related to excessive excused absneces is handled at the local level in congruence with school district policy.

Restores the classic definition of truancy (1) as being absent from school without adult permission and (2) Students who miss more than five unexcused days or the hourly equivalent in one school quarter or ten unexcused absences in one year, when such absences are not excused to the satisfaction of district policy by the parent, guardian, or other person having control of such child are referred to the county attorney for Truancy Mentoring.

Provides a mechanism for early interventions and services for truant students by (1) requiring the attendance officer to refer student to the county attorney for Truancy Mentoring if the child is absent more than five days or the hourly equivalent in one year, and (2) includes a referral to the GOALS team when a student has been absent three days without excuse.

Nebraska Attendance Law: Statement of Intent and Hearing Report


LB 800: Statement of Intent

· Remove language allowing each district to define and use the distinction between excused and unexcused absence.

· Remove language allowing the school to end efforts to meet with parents after the parent refuses to participate in a meeting to address the student's truancy if the request and refusal are documented.

· Add provision requiring school administrators, attendance officers or enforcement officers to make contact with family of the truant student after 5, 10 and 20 truancies and document the contact. [This section is highly objectionable because it makes undeserving students and families the object of undue scrutiny; especially when combined with the fact that it includes excused absences in the tabulation of absent days.] After the third contact, the case can be referred to the county attorney. There must be three documented attempts to get the student to school or the county attorney will not accept the filing.

· Authorize county attorney to issue an infraction against the parent of a truant student. The first infraction would carry a $300 fine that could be waived if the parent participates in mediation with a representative from the school. The second infraction would carry a $500 fine and could be waived with participation in mediation. After the third infraction, the parent can be charged with a Class III misdemeanor.

· Require each school district to provide a report to Department of Education regarding truancy and strategies developed by district to address truancy. [This section has resulted in parents receiving truancy letters after their student is absent five days in a quarter, and then at ten days. The letters have caused anxiety among parents since most parents find it difficult to regard five absences as excessive absenteeism.]

· Authorize school districts within a Learning Community to establish a reintegration center to assist students who have been out of school for some time or those who have dropped out completely.

· Authorize the Learning Community Coordinating Council to award grants to non-profit organizations providing intervention services for at-risk juveniles focusing on closing the learning gap.

· Require school districts to report to the Department of Education on expulsions, suspensions, referrals to the county attorney for truancy and any contact with law enforcement within 48 hours of occurrence.

· Establish a child-at-risk task force that includes the Department of Education, Probation, HHS, school superintendents and the UNMC College of Public Health. [This section of LB 800 has lead to the “information sharing” clause in LB 463 that’s an invasion of privacy and extends law enforcement responsibilities to school administrators.]

· Eliminate the use of three-judge panel appeals of juvenile cases where the court orders implementation of a plan different from what HHS recommended and expedite appeals of juvenile cases at the Court of Appeals.

· Clarify juvenile court jurisdiction over parents by giving the court authority to require the parent, guardian or custodian to participate in the therapeutic services necessary for the rehabilitation of the juvenile.

· Add language to provide that in distributing funds provided under the County Juvenile Services Aid Program, counties shall prioritize programs and services that will reduce the juvenile detention population.

Statements from the hearing of LB 800:

After reading the entire transcript of the committee hearing for LB 800; I am impressed that the most popular parts of this bill were not the parts that have been of concern to the Millard Parent Society. Truancy provisions of the bill are rarely discussed in the testimony and when it was discussed, but I have highlighted the mentions of those sections of the bill that are now having a negative impact on families.

Senator Ashford (Introduction):

“We know also that truancy is reality…Parents and guardians must bear a greater responsibility…Our county attorneys are spending valuable time and resources attending to truancy cases that could be used to address more serious criminal matters…Truancy rates have risen…these juveniles can and should be handled at the school level…It is my purpose here to make certain that obstacles are removed to advancement in the area of reducing truancy.”

“Children who commit minor, nonviolent offenses do not belong in a youth detention center. For example, HHS, juvenile probation and Douglas County are working collaboratively on a program to divert juveniles from the jurisdiction of the Office of Juvenile Services into other alternatives…”

“We are asking our public schools to be innovative and proactive to help us keep juveniles in school and avoid a juvenile court filing. We also propose that parents be held to a certain level of responsibility if they are to ignore...decide to ignore the efforts of our schools to keep their children in school…We are also clarifying any question in current law that the juvenile courts have jurisdiction over the parents of juveniles in the court system.”

“Lack of actionable data on at-risk youth makes it so much more difficult to provide needed services at the earliest possible moment. Coordination of existing data is critical and prompt reporting of relevant data must improve dramatically…We are proposing the establishment of a Child At-risk Task Force including the Department of Education, probation, HHS, and the University of Nebraska Medical Center College of Public Health, and school superintendents to evaluate this at-risk data and make recommendations to the Legislature by December 31, 2010, on strategies to reduce truancy and other behaviors that impede learning.”
In Support of LB 800

Father Steven Boes: Concerned about impact of juvenile detention

Tells the story of a 15 year old who got into trouble with the law which began with skipping school and ended with him in detention. “His time in detention hurt his relationship with his family because he was away from them for that time.” Boys Town would support an amendment to LB800 to fund a pilot project for early in-home family intervention to help kids stay out of detention by helping their families. Let me just tell you what good in-home family services look like. It's a comprehensive intervention involving parent training, mentoring, building connections to community resources like schools…Our success rate with these kids in in-home family services is 80 to 90 percent, and that means that the child graduates from high school on time, has no further contact with the law or social services…I'm also asking you to join Boys Town in proclaiming that not only are there no bad boys as Father Flanagan taught, but there's no bad families. Let me tell you what I mean by that. My Boys Town experience has taught me through thousands and thousands of kids and families across America that there's always at least one person in a family that wants what is best for their children and is willing to ask for and receive the help they need to help their child.”

Pat Connell: Concerned about placement decisions

“Need to err on the side of caution in placement decisions… It will take time to develop and implement the necessary services in a reformed juvenile justice system… t if we get ahead of the system, then the system will be forced to place children in the wrong program or at the wrong time. If not, this new system will be forced to place youth in the wrong program just because that program is available.”

Liz Crnkovich: More Concerns than support (very interesting witness, would love to meat her)

“When I signed in, I wrote proponent, opponent, and neutral on the sheet.”

“Here's my concern we're hearing: do things quicker, do things faster, change these laws, get these evals. With all due respect… we've all had the experience of rushing too quickly to judgment and then regretting that later.”

“Some of the things in the bill, in my humble opinion, are already in statute and do not need additions to the statute. One example is the requirement of least restrictive alternatives. That's already in the statute and that is something that is considered by every judge with juvenile jurisdiction. It is not the desire of juvenile judges to incarcerate youth.”

“Some of these concerns are set out to meet the needs of a particular county and do not require statutory change but merely a renewed commitment by that county”

“The portion that would require that Health and Human Services be the only one to decide what types of evaluations is quite concerning to the court.”

Speaking of pretreatment assessments (mental status exams), Crnkovich expresses concerns about this being another layer of buracracy that “is money-driven”; she says, “Why send someone...why send a parent for a psychiatric evaluation that comes back and tells me that I need to order a psychiatric evaluation? That's my concern.”

“The issue of citations, probably neutral, although I think it's meant to address a problem that may not exist”

On truancy: Crnkovich is active in combating truancy, she acts as a mentor with Building Bright Futures and was quoted in a truancy story in the World Herald as saying, ““Confrontation doesn't translate into problem-solving and helping these kids change.” In her testimony on LB 800 she seemed reluctant to share her personal views on the issue: “Working very hard on the issue of truancy as a community in Omaha, including the court supervised diversion, the use of what are called SARBS, student absence committees. And I am in the midst of working with OPS and Bright Futures and other collaborative on that. One thing, without...I'm going to keep silent on the appeals panel so as to maintain my good relationship with Judge Irwin. (Laugh) I'm happy to be rid of them; he may not be” [I would be interested in her thoughts now]

On court power over parents: Crnkovich wants clarity on what power the court has over parents of juveniles before the judge, and she hopes this law will provide that. “we have respect for the families…but the challenge is that in a legal system, we are dealing with relationships, we are dealing with emotional issues, we are dealing with psychological issues. And the nature of the beast is that when it is the child who's named before the court, it is all too easy to say that the child is the problem, fix the child… so I'm not saying there are bad parents out there. There are troubled parents, there are parents who also have mental health problems and drug abuse problems. There are parents who are, you know, in denial and that is a huge challenge, always has been, will continue to be if we cannot work better with the parents. That's why some of the challenges, I mean, it's very nice to say we can do the services in the home, and we want to. Children should be at home, all things being equal. They should...if they can't be home, they should be in a setting that meets their needs, without question… But simply being at home is not correcting the problem and often is exacerbating it without further attention. ”

John Irwin: Testifies about LB 923 and the sealing of juvenile records.

Justin Tolston: Supports LB 923 and the sealing of juvenile records.

Chris Rodgers: Support of Alternative Detention

Ben Gray: Supports LB 923 and the sealing of juvenile records.

Alex Hayes: LB 800 Civil Citations

Nicole Goaley: Supportive of parental accountablility

(Deputy Douglas County attorney, currently supervise the Juvenile Division for Don Kleine)

“Fully supportive of… interventions on behalf of juvenile justice specifically with regards to parental accountability.”

Mark Young: Testifies in support of using excused absences to count truancy

I think he is trying to say that they want to include excused absences because sometimes even parents with doctors notes are using those notes to cover up an issue that the school could address if they could just meet with the parents. He says, “every year parents who either are enabling their child by finding a doctor excuse or something or who lack the resources or the tools to get their kid to school. We'd really appreciate being able to count the excused absences as well.

In relation to consequences for parents whose children are truancy he says, “It's rare if ever, at least in Hall County it is, the parent has gone to jail for not getting their kid to school. But I got to tell you, it is a pretty good tool, both with the parents of young kids...and with grade school kids I think it's the parents' fault. If the kid is not in school, it's the parents' fault…Even before we started this program, we had situations where judges were saying, you know, do you want to see your mom go to jail just because you can't stay in school for seven hours? And that will work. And so I'd ask you to consider that”

John Cavanaugh: In support of Truancy provisions in LB 800

(Building Bright Futures)

“Bright Future's approach has been that there is not a single cause to these problems and there's not a single solution, that you have to be comprehensive, that you have to be coherent.”

Kim Hawekotte: In support of Truancy provisions in LB 800

(Building Bright Futures School Engagement and Truancy Initiatives)

Primarily supports: First, is with regards to the statutory change of the provision that would give the juvenile courts authority to court order parents to be involved in services with status and delinquency cases. It's imperative that that happen…[we] need to develop criteria to determine what those at-risk students are, what the assessments are for those youth, and what then the proper intervention is we feel very strongly about the resource and reengagement center that could be done within the learning community in Douglas and Sarpy County… currently what happens under our current system if the school isn't successful, they go immediately to the juvenile justice system… As a system, we have never created community-based responses to effectively deal with these youths… the resource and reengagement center would be a way to deal with youth that are missing the 10, the 15, 20 days of school to figure out what the needs are.’ [This is why they then end up needing to pull their juvenile record at ten days so they can figure out which kids need the resource and which ones don’t. My question, why can’t they just figure that out based on the students grades?]

T. Hank Robinson: Testifies Nutural and calls for more resources to fund the bill

I'm really here to talk about our make-do-with-what-we-have attitude. In fact, some of the legislation contained within LB800 in some respects is our best attempt and our deliberate attempt to try to make do with what we have instead of addressing the core issue which is a lack of resources.
Kim Culp: testifies in support of civil citation

Todd Reckling: Testifies nutrual for LB 923 and in support of LB 800 (doesn’t touch truancy)

(Director of the Division of Children and Family Services within the Department of Health and Human Services)

Concern: “the department will incur General Fund fiscal impact due to provisions that would expand therapeutic services for certain parents whose children are involved in the juvenile justice system. While we are aware that treatment of the parents can significantly improve outcomes for a juvenile in the system, given the current economic climate and the fiscal challenge of the state, we do not believe it is prudent to expand these services at this time”

Corey Steel: Testifies nutural on both bills covering probation issues

(Juvenile justice specialist with the Office of Probation Administration)

Linda Cox: Supports requiring the parents to participate in therapeutic services necessary for the rehabilitation of the juvenile.

Michelle Oldham: I am all in favor of alternative dispute resolution for truancy cases, particularly partnering with the schools.

Liz Standish: testifies on the element of the bill being the movement towards unexcused absences for school.

(Administration for the Omaha Public School District)

OPS transitioned to a policy where excused absences were used in their calculation and experienced difficulties. Liz says, “We found some challenges that you should be aware of since that is part of the bill that you're proposing. When you have a situation where a child, for example, a big one we dealt with this last fall would be H1N1, you have a mother who's actively engaged in the school setting, picking up homework, dropping off homework, doing everything she can to keep that child up to speed, and then the school is in a situation where they are making that referral to the county attorney. We need to be very thoughtful about that relationship between the school, the family and what can happen to that relationship when you're in that situation with that mother who's working so very hard to keep their child on track and then they feel as though maybe they've done something wrong in that case. And that's just a by-product that we've experienced.”

She suggests, “The other thing we find is maybe tying student attendance to driver's license or to employment. A number of our young people that miss school, it truly is because they're closing the restaurant at 1:00 in the morning and trying to get up and be at class at 7:30 the next day”

Jane Martin-Hoffman: In favor of mediation to prevent further truancies

Nebraska Justice Center

“There are a lot of reasons why these kids aren't there. By bringing everyone together at one time to discuss them, you really do have an opportunity to address what services are needed, what is the problem, how can we make this work, and you can create options, that you're looking outside the box.”

Mary Bahney: Testifies in support of LB 800 (discusses some concerns with truancy policy)

(A licensed clinical social worker)

The attempt to prescribe a uniform school attendance policy across all school districts will be helpful to families who can be confused as they move from one school district to another. Removing the reference to excused and unexcused absences from written policy is positive, as the decision of what is or is not an unexcused absence may not be applied equally among the schools in the same district, much less across various school districts. With that said, NASW would like for the committee to think about some aspects of the bill that might need to be reconsidered. In rewriting the current statute, we do not want to create a process that will slow down the eventual goal of a student attending school on a regular basis. Oftentimes the school knows the reasons that a student is absent--out of town for a funeral, legitimate lengthy illness and, yes, unfortunately, sometimes a wintertime getaway. With that information reported to the school, would it really be necessary for a school social worker to contact the family to confirm that information?

Requiring a contact just because a certain number of days of school have been missed rather than a more strategic analysis of why the student has been absent could take time away from other duties assigned to the school social worker. Limiting the number of days a student is absent to a semester rather than the entire school year could be problematic.

The bill is written for all levels of students covered by mandatory attendance laws and I think we just need to make sure that it fits the needs of all ages of children.