Sunday, October 9, 2011

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.

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