Sunday, October 9, 2011

Intent to Amend Nebraska Statute 79-209, 79-2121

*These proposals are a starting point, they are not final proposals.

Statement of Intent to Amend Nebraska Statute 79-209, 79-2121

The following constitutes the reasons for these proposed amendments and the purposes which are sought to be accomplished thereby:

The unintended consequences that have resulted from the changed definition of truancy, which has shifted discretion related to school absences from parents and principals to lawyers and judges, has caused a fundamental shift of authority that threatens to weaken the positive relationship between schools and parents and to disrupt a healthy family centered culture in which the primary responsibility for the education and well being of a child rest in the hands of parents. It is necessary to restore the classic definition of truancy in order that parents may retain their natural rights and the trustful relationship that should exist between schools and parents can be restored.

Children in loving homes, with parents who are actively involved, have fallen within the oversight and jurisdiction of DHHS and the juvenile justice system as a result of this law. The law has been the cause of unacceptable abuses such as: (1) students and families that have suffered the humiliation of being classified criminals despite excellent academic records and documented excused absences. (2) Families who “voluntarily” entered truancy diversion programs under the threat of having their child removed from their home, and (3) have subsequently been subjected to detailed supervision of their family life by lawyers, judges, and social workers. (4) Families who would not submit to truancy diversion are still fighting their cases in court.

It is our goal to preserve the function of the law which seeks to prevent habitual truancy and juvenile delinquency while protecting Nebraskan families from government over-reach and undue scrutiny by state authorities.

We propose changes to the statute, policies, and practices related to school attendance and truancy law as follows:

Creates two separate and distinct definitions related to “problematic absenteeism”; one for an excessive amount of excused absences and the other for unexcused absences or “habitual truancy”.

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 absences is handled at the local school level in congruence with school district policy.

Restores the classic definition of truancy (1) as being absent from school without permission and (2) Students who miss more five unexcused days or the hourly equivalent in one school quarter or ten unexcused absences in one school 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) providing schools in the Learning Community with the option of utilizing the county GOALS team when a student has been absent five days without excuse in one year. (2) Services to be administered in a mentor style truancy program that focuses on partnerships with non-profit philanthropic organizations as well as faith based organizations to reach out to students and their families in personal and positive ways.

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