Monday, October 10, 2011

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

3 comments:

  1. Mono can take *years* to fully recover from--I know this from personal experience. I am so sorry you were put through this!

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  2. I have a daughter who was bullied in school this happened when she was 12 years old she wouldn't go to school my baby girl got so depressed she decided it was best to take some pills and kill herself this is after we been to court for truancy a couple of time thank god she was found in time she was rushed to the hospital we had her put in mercy hospital they said she had depression and anixtiy she still couldn't go to school court again for not going to school been going through this for 2 years courts kept threating her about taking her out of home tried to charge me and my husband with neglet she was putback in mercy for cutting this time still getting bullied at school well let just say they took our daughter and put her in boystown this isn't because she was a bad kid this is because she was getting bullied and wouldn't go to school we get to see her maybe once aweek and talk to her on the phone twice a week so this law they have needs to be changed

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    1. Anonymous, your story is horrible and a complete abuse of this law by the school and county attorney. Would you please contact me confidentially at NebraskaFamilyForum@gmail.com.

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