Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Must Read Facebook Posts: How Nebraska's School Attendance Law Hurts Families

If you haven't found our Facebook Group yet, you are missing the full affect of Nebraska's truancy law  on the everyday lives of families. These are some highlights from the discussions at our Facebook Group. Join us on Facebook and become part of the conversation.
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Jamie Kay Costello
Recently I was able to directly visit with a medical physician, also a RN. I ask point blank what they thought of this new truancy law. To the best of my knowledge, unable to quote word for word answers, this was the reply. 

Answer: If government/state/teachers/county attorneys/school officials etc. want to step up and deny a child of any age an excused absence from school do to sickness then they should be prepared when this law results in a huge lawsuit against the schools/state/even the governor and whoever else when an issue arises such as: 

Do to the fact parents are being forced to send their child/children to school even though they are ill, because of the truancy law, enforcement is endangering not only the sick child but other children and school professionals. There are highly contagious diseases/sickness that are air born and will spread quickly and these children are being forced to go to school sick because the law has put fear into parents. It is insanity! Sever medical conditions could result and will result eventually endangering the health/well being of a child. 

Those that put this law in effect did so without any common sense what so ever when they stipulated no medical excuse would be excused. I should add that the medical portion is only one huge flaw in this truancy law there are other big factors pertaining to this truancy law that will eventually be challenged. Not only are parents angered by this law there are many of us in the medical profession that are also.
I did not ask permission to use publically the medical professionals name therefore will not do so. And again the above answer is not a quote as I can’t remember the exact wording of the reply, but to the best of my knowledge was the given reply.
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Amy Dorenkamp Ellefson 
When we were looking for schools for our kids last year, the parochial schools were not concerned about the law or any reporting required by it. The public school administrators were very honest about their concerns. One administrator told us that our kids were not welcome in that district if they were going to miss a significant number of days to participate in a national theater production tour. She stated, in writing, that the absences could negatively impact standardized test results and therefore were unacceptable.
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Melissa Oehm-Brandquist
This is straight from the elementary school nurse for my youngest child's school in Millard. Hmm...are we sending out kids to school sick now because of truancy fears?? See what this nonsense is causing!! The current strain of respiratory flu going around is taking an average of two full weeks to fully recover-not that you can't attend school, but the cough just lingers and kids generally don't cover their cough.


NOTE FROM THE NURSE: If your child is ill, please keep him/her out of school. Sending a sick child to school helps to spread the illness to others. Also, if your child vomits during the night, please do not send him/her to school in the morning.


In addition, children must be fever free WITHOUT the aid of medication (ie Tylenol, Ibuprofen, etc) to be allowed back into school.


ALWAYS remember to wash hands often during cold and flu season, especially after coughing, sneezing, or blowing your nose. Can't find a tissue? Sneeze or cough into your elbow instead of your hands. For more information on colds and flu, go towww.webmd.com/cold-and-flu/ss/slideshow-cold-or-flu

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Dawn Ballosingh
Last Spring, the state required all of the staff that works in my department across the state to attend a mandatory meeting. One of the staff (Sudanese placed resident) is a single mother with no family here. So in order for her to keep her job with the Douglas County health department, she had to drive her children to Minnesota (where the nearest family member lives) the Friday before, drive back to Kearney attend the training for the first three days of the work week and then drive back to MN to pick up her children. In total her children lost 6 1/2 days of school and now she has to deal with the social workers who are investigating her as to how long she leaves her children unattended from when school is out to when she gets home from work (and she has one day a week that she has to work until 7:00 p.m.). Unfortunately for her she does not have the resources and is trying to be as compliant as possible.

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Brenda Vosik
I contacted my son's school to make arrangements to pick him up 15 minutes early tomorrow for an orthodontist appointment. His last hour is a study hall so he would not be missing class, just the last 15 minutes of study hall. I was informed by the secretary that unless I brought a note from the orthodontist to prove my son was there, he would be counted absent and unexcused. Apparently my word isn't good enough and the school is assuming I will be helping my kid join a gang, spray graffiti and generally create havoc between 3:00 and 3:15 tomorrow afternoon.

Crystal Jones Young
If the schools do not respect parental authority, then why should children respect parental authority. If children do not respect parental authority then why should they respect the rule of law? If the law then becomes unsustainable, aren't we less than a generation from total tyranny, and chaos. The irony is that this law was written to keep youth away from lawless activities? I'm joining your "gang" Brenda. And I'm not going to lie. I will take the children out to play with our family for a birthday party. It is important enough for Dad to take off work. It is important enough to miss 2 hours of school. Emotional bonds and psychological well being weigh far more in making successful adults than academic instruction.

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Gina Miller
So did you all see this story about these AMAZING young people who have been invited to dance in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. These ladies will be representing Omaha and Nebraska. Only the top dancers and top dance studios in the entire country are invited to participate . I am sure the Governor is proud of them representing our state so well.

With that said, you will see during the video, that it is a requirement for the girls to be there a week early. They left yesterday and will be there through next weekend, THUS MISSING BEING IN SCHOOL! Better tell them not to go and to turn down this opportunity of a lifetime since they will not be "learning" since they are not physically IN school. Case Closed!

Gina Miller
I have another friend who has a daughter who is competing for the state of Nebraska in the national competition for Teen USA. I believe the winner of the competition is offered a college scholarship! The competition is a several day competition in California. They also left Friday and will not be back until next week. The mother is from California, this will be the only trip to CA they will be making this year to see her parents , grandparents, and extended family.

Kori Radloff
THIS is exactly the biggest reason that I am a member of this group! I had many of these kinds of experiences as a student and I want my own children to have the same kind of experiences. I hate the idea that I might have to tell my children "no" to a once in a lifetime opportunity just because the state thinks it's more important that my child be sitting in a sit, staring at a whiteboard.

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Melanie Williams-Smotherman
One of our kitties is very sick and likely will not live many more days, in spite of our efforts. My daughter Sydney - who primarily lives in Lincoln and is graduating from Lincoln High this year as a nearly straight-A student in the IB program at age 16 - wanted to come to Omaha tonight to spend some time with Piper (her kitty) before she dies. That means she will be missing school tomorrow, bringing her to 8 days missed: 5 days for her volunteer service trip to Haiti during the first week of school, 2 days from illness, and tomorrow - to help care for and love her beloved Piper. We'll see how the rest of the year goes, but I find it intriguing (and I'm appalled) that we should even have to consider the short-sighted arrogance of Nebraska officials who think they know better about the well-being of my children. Correction - ... of Nebraska officials who are putting forward a false pretense of caring about the well-being of our children, but who are really attempting to standardize not only our children's education, but our family life - under the law - for their own benefit.

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Stephanie Smith Morgan
I thought this year would be an easy one for us to keep absences down, now that my husbands home from Iraq, but life is unpredictable. My mother-in-law has just been diagnosed with Pancreatic Cancer, and because of her health we are already having to plan absences in the near future. I got my son's report card in the mail. It just bugs me how this is formatted now. Student attendance is at the top of the sheet, the first thing that they list, and they count every hour a child misses rather than the number of days so it's kind of tricky to figure out. My son has 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 is the Grade report. My excessively absent student has 8 A's and 2 B's. I wonder which they care about more, his attendance record or his grade record? With my son already at 6 absences because of illness and orthodontic work, I have no idea how this year will go, and after last year they very likely could determine that his "pattern" is a sign of "problematic" absenteeism and turn us in to the GOALS team.

Stephanie Smith Morgan
I talked to Jennifer Chambers, a few nights ago at a church activity, her family is in the court system in Sarpy county because of this law. She was saying that this year, in order to keep her daughter who is often ill from reaching the 20 day threshold, they are having her send her daughter to school sick and they are keeping her daughter in a sick room. This way they can count her present, but she can rest. What is wrong with this picture?

I attended one of the court dates for this very cute 11 year old girl. She was shy and sweet and when the attorney told her they would put her on probation she broke down and cried. She said to her mom, "What did I do wrong!" Her mother told me later that this process had changed her personality. That they had made her feel like a criminal and she had begun to doubt herself wondering it maybe she was a bad kid.

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Anne Schlenz Slingwine
I will begin homeschooling my youngest daughter in Jan. because of this law. The decision to homeschool our youngest is a personal one and we will still have one in the high school who has mixed feelings on homeschooling hence I will not pull her. I am taking a chance that with 6 absences she wont be sick. I feel this law was poorly thought out and continue to write to Gov Heinemann about the implications of it and educate everyone I know on exactly what they can do when they become entrapped in the nightmare that so many have experienced. I will be downtown at the board meeting later this month and I am hoping and saying many prayers that we have support on the board . I have lived in Nebraska most of my life, except for my military service and I always thought Ne had a top rated educational system. In my eyes it has deteriorated so much that I feel if we don't stop and get it back on track then it will be lost . What a shame for all the kids in the state. And what's really sad is that all these kids pay the price because our elected officials who are in office to serve US are too busy chasing federal dollars to worry about what's right for the children and the state.

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Casey Nelms
I spoke to the school admin. about her comment, and was told that we should think about "regular" hours jobs, so we could both be home in the evenings. I asked if they felt this was the reason, my son was having trouble understanding his math. Their answer was, it was our fault because of our strange working hours. I asked if they would consider my family "dysfunctional"? I was told that good grades start at home! No joke!!!! My son just made graduation! Enlisted in the Army. Has been promoted three times in 5 years, served 15 months in Iraq, and 12 months in Afghanistan, and has obtained a BA. Makes one wonder how he could learn at all while serving in a combat unit, yet could not learn because we worked "shifts". Not hard to see why public education is having so much trouble!!

Dawn Renard Jones
My daughter, who is an A+/A student, just had a Petition filed against her by the Sarpy County Attorney for missing 5 days this year (after missing 20 last year). Now I have to take her to court next month, which means more school missed for her and work for me. Doesn't that defeat the purpose? This law is absolutely ridiculous! There has to be a better way to go after the children who are truly truant!! Her hearing is on December 13th. I still don't understand the Petition because it says she missed 20+ days in the 2011-2012 school year (this year), which is not true. She missed 20 days LAST school year and 5 days this year. Her court-appointed attorney was supposed to find out a week and a half ago and call me, but I haven't heard from her, nor has she answered my email or phone call.

Nebraska Family Policy Forum
Dawn, your frustration with the process is shared by many who are currently experiencing the same thing. The law has sorted thousands through the system and the court appointed attorney's are swamped, even more than usual, which makes them pretty useless. Another parent I talked to a few days ago said they are on their 6th court date, their public defender has nothing, and they have spent countless hours and money compiling all their records and information to defend themselves.

I realize with everything that is going on with you right now, writing out your "truancy story" is a daunting and emotional task, but please consider the difference these stories make in building a case against this law and helping us to push an amendment through. Just take some time to sit down and write it up, other parents have said it was therapeutic. Mail it to: nebraskaparentsociety@gmail.com

*Dawn's case was dropped not long after this posting.

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Liz Dingle
My son is attending MSHS (Millard South High School). I hate it! I'm a single mom whose son gets great grades, and stays out of trouble. A student burst his eardrum so he missed a few days. The school has done nothing about this "clap" game! To me his absence shouldn't count since it happened on there watch! I'm terrified. What if he gets pneumonia or injures himself? Then what? I'm so scared I'll lose my greatest gift! My son. I just don't understand. I'm a single mom doing her best! I have a wonderful son! Why should these kinds of absences count as "truant" behavior?

Stephanie Smith Morgan
Liz, that is outrageous! Your story is just another example of what is wrong with this law, and our education system. I read a story recently about what causes truancy (or attendance issues) and the author said, "Most truancy programs -- both the innovative and the ordinary -- have two factors in common: They identify the family as the primary source of a student's truancy problem and operate on the assumption that the sole effective solution to truancy lies outside the school."

Our state plan to address school attendance makes the assumption that Nebraska's failing students, fail because they miss too much school and that their families are the primary cause of their "truancy". This story and many other studies I have read contradict these assumptions. According to a survey reported in Student Truancy, "students most often cited boredom and loss of interest in school, irrelevant courses, suspensions, problems with peers, and bad relationships with teachers as the major factors in their decision to skip school." Other studies indicate that habitual truants are struggling academically, do not have friends who attend school regularly, see no reason for attending school, and report feeling socially isolated in school. Most commonly, from the student's perspective, the immediate cause of truancy lies within the school.

It is highly likely that the school is the problem, the cause, of excessive absenteeism. I'm not saying that in some cases the family contributes, but as Liz's example demonstrates, there are many families who are stuck in failing schools because of circumstance and the fact that there kids haven't given up on the whole thing is largely because they have excellent parents who push them forward against extraordinary odds.

Despite the belief among most educators that family problems cause chronic truancy, the fact is that schools are responsible to provide a safe quality educational environment that motivates and engages the student, and the school can be expected to deal with many of the issues that cause truancy -- even in the face of indifferent or ineffective parenting.

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Crystal Jones Young
On a positive note, our children came out of school this afternoon to celebrate a family birthday. I talked in advance with the Attendance Vice President, the children requested their assignments a day ahead of time, and turned any work due in before leaving school. I told the complete truth about where and why we would be missing school. The Attendance officer appreciated our honesty, the fact that parents were aware of all the subjects being missed and parents were planning to have missed work done before leaving. Nevertheless he will count it as an unexcused absence. So be it. My children are not behind in any subjects and are good students. Responsible parenting requires that parents do what is necessary for students to do their best academically. Many educators realize that means parents need to take children out of the classroom. The family bonding and emotional security yield far greater dividends than just keeping a seat warm at school. Parents need to give the "I care" time because children naturally want to please their parents and do their best. No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top have done more destroy good education than render any aid to our children.

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Dawn Ballosingh
My mother became very I'll while visiting my sister in NY and was hospitalized with seizures of unknown causes. I had to relieve my sister. I made the decision to take my son as his father works 12-hour shifts and I have no other family here in NE. Though my son is on the honor roll and up until then had NO history of absences I still had to deal with this aggravation. My fear is that if my mother becomes ill again and I have to go to her home in the Caribbean, the Millard school district policy is that they will no longer give you the work to take with you, but pressure the child to make up the work plus keep up upon return. So I have to choose between my only parent and my only child.

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The Smallwood Family

I got a "the letter" in the mail when my son had missed 5 days of school and another page saying what would happen if he missed more days. The days he missed were due to a bad cold and the stomach flu. Since then, he has missed even more days because of another bad cold and right now he is batteling bronchitis. My children attend a school that is under renovation right now, so they are bussed to a site clear on the other side of town to attend school.

There have been 1 or 2 days that all my kids were kept home because they missed the bus (the bus was earlier then expected and we were running late) and I did not have the gas to take them (our kids are in a temp. building clear on the south side of town this year while they repair the McPhee Elementary School building). I have the feeling that this law is going to hurt a lot of families who struggle financially. I can't afford to send my child to school this year while they may be sick, and turn around and have to drive clear to the South Site to pick them up and bring them back home.

I don't think I should be punished as a parent for making the right choice to keep my kids home while they are sick. I don't want them making other kids sick either. I'm sure I will receive another letter from the school about my son missing more school, but there is nothing I can do if he's sick.

My husband recently met with my son's teachers because we got another letter saying he had missed 12 days of school (almost all sick days) and had to meet with them to discuss why he was missing school. My husband simply told them that he was sick and we refused to send him to school while he was sick. We didn't want to make other people's kids ill. The school already knew this because we call them anytime our kids miss a day. So, we wasted 1/4 of a tank of gas and my husband's time to tell the school something that they already knew. It's very frustrating. I'm glad parents are speaking out

My son is in Kindergarten. He was 4 years old when the school year started and he's behind the other kids in his class due to his age and a speech problem. I thought the school could get him on track with learning, but now I'm not sure I made the right choice and I'm considering taking him out of school. I don't want to. I want him to get the help he needs, get used to going to school, and be around kids his own age,  but I don't want to take the chance of losing him to the state either because he missed school from being sick.

My family is considering moving if this law is not changed and I've lived in Nebraska most of my life. I'm really worried about this law because my kids get sick a lot during the fall and winter months and some times they have to miss school because of it.

Kayla Smallwood
Lincoln Public Schools
Lincoln, NE

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Everything you need to know about Nebraska's Compulsory Education and Mandatory Attendance Laws

A complete list of the official statutes related to the compulsory education of Nebraska's school aged children.

Section 79-201: Compulsory Education Law:

Annotations

Protections for home school:

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.

State Powers:

The state, having a high responsibility for the education of its citizens, has the power to impose reasonable regulations for the control and duration of basic education. Parents have a right to send their children to private schools but do not have the right to be completely unfettered by reasonable government regulations as to the quality of the education furnished and the maintenance of minimum standards.

Protections for parents:

Violation of this law is not, in itself, evidence of neglect under section.

This section did not operate to violate constitutional right of parents to educate their children in accordance with the tenets of their religious faith.

This section has no application to physically or mentally handicapped child attending special school.


Statute 79-209: Mandatory Attendance/ Truancy Law:

"All school districts shall have a written policy on excessive absenteeism developed in collaboration with the county attorney of the county in which the principal office of the school district is located... The number of absences in the policy shall not exceed five days per quarter or the hourly equivalent. School districts may use excused and unexcused absences for purposes of the policy... 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... Nothing in this section shall preclude a county attorney from being involved at any stage in the process to address excessive absenteeism."


Statute 79-527: Reporting and Documentation of Truancy:

“Public school district or a nonpublic school system shall report on a monthly basis to the Commissioner of Education as directed by the commissioner regarding the number of and reason for any long-term suspension, expulsion, or excessive absenteeism of a student.”

Statute 79-527.01: Truancy Intervention Task Force:

“The task force shall study and evaluate the data contained in the reports required…and shall develop recommendations to reduce incidents of excessive absenteeism. The task force may contact a school district or a county attorney for additional information. The task force shall report to the Legislature on or before July 1, 2011, and each July 1 thereafter.”


Statute 79-2121: Superintendent's Plan and the GOALS Initiative:

The superintendents... that are members of a learning community shall develop and participate in a plan... to reduce excessive absenteeism including a process to share information regarding at-risk youth with the goal of improving educational outcomes, providing effective intervention that impact risk factors, and reducing unnecessary penetration deeper into the juvenile justice system. For purposes of this section, at-risk youth means children who are (1) under the jurisdiction of the Office of Probation Administration, are (2) under the jurisdiction of the Department of Health and Human Services, are (3) otherwise involved in the juvenile justice system, or (4) have been absent from school for more than five days per year or the hourly equivalent except when excused by school authorities or when a documented illness makes attendance impossible or impracticable.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

The GOALS Initiative: How All the Pieces Fit

Last Spring, in an attempt to reassure concerned parents facing intrusions into their family life and possible legal action under Nebraska’s heavy-handed truancy law, Judge Liz Crnkovich spoke to parents at a meeting hosted by Millard Public Schools.

She described a new truancy program she was interested in implementing in Omaha. She talked about a new mindset needed in our community among law enforcement and parents in order to improve school attendance.

She told parents, "We're looking at a shift in thinking” She explained that county attorneys, lawyers, social workers and school officials are shifting from a mindset of prosecution, to one of rehabilitation.  She said, "We're there to provide help in a way that's not shameful; in a way that really helps." She asked parents at the meeting to shift their thinking as well, not to see “judges as judges, but as problem-solvers.” In order to understand what the GOALS Initiative is, you first have to understand this new paradigm.

Despite her assurances, parents at the meeting did not become comfortable with her description of how things would work under the new law. Crnkovich explained that the new law was needed "to help our children grow and be better citizens.”

After the meeting parents discussed the often used "our children", and felt the whole tone of the meeting was demeaning to their parental role. She seemed to be dismissing their primary responsibility to teach their children to be “better citizens”. The comment, though well meant, illustrates the dividing point between how these parents view their children, and how they are viewed by the professionals tasked with implementing the new truancy law.

The judge made it clear at the meeting that the law represented a fundamental shift in authority over school attendance from parents and principals, to lawyers and judges. The shift would require the sharing of student information freely between schools, local law enforcement, and HHS.

The power to do this was granted by the legislature, with the passage of LB 463 in 2011. I finally understood that LB 463 established the Judge’s vision for what she had already named “GOALS”. She proudly told parents the clever acronym GOALS stood for Greater Omaha Attendance and Learning Services. She discussed her interest in opening a free-standing truancy assessment center so that people caught in the new truancy net would meet one-on-one with this multi-disciplinary team of social workers, lawyers, and judges, rather than being sorted through group meetings at the court house.

Each piece has fallen into place: first the passage of the laws in 2010 and 2011, which Crnkovich called the “hammer” to compel parents to cooperate; then the Superintendent’s plan, mandated by the legislature, which created the GOALS Initiative and was followed by the tightening of local school district attendance policy; finally, the Memorandum of Understanding, which brings local law enforcement and state agencies on board and puts in place the first steps to the future establishment of the assessment center. All of this has been done with little opposition from public officials - from state senators to school boards - and within a very short time frame.

What role does each piece play in the plan? I'll try to make it as simple as I can.

First, Nebraska stripped away any reference to classic truancy and used the mandatory attendance law to improve school attendance across the board, not just among struggling students. Inspired by a belief that “attendance at school is the single most important element to a students ability to learn and be successful in school and life," Nebraska lawmakers seem to have set their sights high, requiring near-perfect attendance. They define a student who misses five days of school as suffering from “excessive absenteeism”.

This paradigm leads to a whole menu of early interventions founded on the idea that "early truancy” leads to academic failure, behavioral problems, and eventual delinquent behavior. To accomplish what proponents believe is necessary for prevention, the law granted power to the county attorney to be “involved at any stage of the process”. This is what school authorities and Judge Crnkovich have called the “hammer” they need to compel the cooperation of parents.

Second, the members of the legislature removed any legal, statutory, or regulatory barriers at the state and local levels to sharing information on student achievement and attendance with all community partners who've been drawn in to this new framework (e.g., child welfare, juvenile justice, and criminal justice agencies). This was accomplished in 2011 under LB 463, and the GOALS Initiative was organized under the Superintendent’s Plan to Improve School Attendance in Douglas and Sarpy County, as mandated by the law. This plan provides schools with the ability to refer students to the multi-disciplinary team at the earliest stages of what they assess to be “problematic absenteeism”.

Third, the GOALS Initiative is seeking formal ratification of its agenda, and official cooperation from all community partners, through the adoption of the Memorandum of Understanding. As stated in the memo, “GOALS supports the removal of barriers” to the sharing of data and information needed to intervene with “at-risk youth."

In addition to sharing information, the GOALS Initiative relies on the “pooling" of "existing resources” and is “financed through in-kind services.” This is how the plan claims to be budget neutral, though the true cost of the GOALS Initiative is entirely unknown. There are evidently increased costs associated with vast increase of cases that most certainly will fall within the jurisdiction of the GOALS team.

Followers of these developments already anticipate other future costs. The plan declares the intention to create an “actual center, accessible by parents, where trained staff can more broadly coordinate services among the Interlocal partners.” The memorandum builds the framework for this center when it proposes “to co-locate MOU participation personnel, so as to best achieve the success of the GOALS initiative to maximize the service provision to families.”

Judge Crnkovich has been a key player in this precipitous plan to transform the way Nebraska handles school attendance on every level. The World Herald reported that Crnkovich launched a pre-court truancy diversion program in 2010. This was likely the beginnings of a more permanent and more broadly structured early-intervention team.

At the Horizon high school meeting she referenced programs is other cities that had built free-standing truancy assessment centers that provide for a "less confrontational approach" to interventions by state and local law enforcement agencies. The article quoted the judge as saying, “Confrontation doesn't translate into problem-solving and helping these kids change.” But she seems to show a very different face to ordinary citizens than she does to legislators, throwing parents in jail when they attempt to explain their son's medical absences and wearing her black robes in meetings with students to “show she means business.”

The Truancy Court project implemented by truancy court judge Joan Byer in Kentucky appears to be the model for the GOALS Initiative. It seems that Judge Crnkovich wishes to play a central role in a Nebraska version of the Kentucky program. Judge Byer described her role in the Kentucky program as using her unique abilities to "delve deeper into the causes of truancy...finding solutions to those problems.”

Like Judge Byer, Judge Crnkovich sees herself as an energetic, enthusiastic advocate of children. Judge Crnkovich agrees with the idea that "Judges, the Division of Juvenile Justice, the Department of Social Services, the school, mental health and social workers all need to be involved." In cases of real truants - kids who are missing school without their parents knowledge and consent - this may be so.

But in the case of kids whose families are fully aware and involved when they're absent, it is not. What Nebraska officials need to understand is that parents are saying they don't want their families involved with these state agencies. They don't see what the truancy teams are offering as services, because services are something you solicit and appreciate, not something that is forced upon you.

Every step taken to revise Nebraska law and shift the way Nebraskans view absence from school has been a critical piece in building this model. It converges law enforcement and education, as stated by the sponsor of both truancy bills, Senator Brad Ashford. The Judge is convinced that this model can be a positive approach to addressing truancy when what she sees as old ways of thinking shift, and a new paradigm is created.

Here is the major disconnect! Why should we want to make law-abiding, hard-working, play-by-the-rules Nebraskans feel comfortable interacting with state agencies and law enforcement, who foist upon them “services” under threat of legal action? And why should we want to see families with successful students curtail their personal choices because of their fear of their government? What is positive about those goals?

The guiding principles of the Superintendents plan and the Memorandum of Understanding represent a serious effort to establish a set of beliefs that lead to a new “normal” and crystallize a paradigm shift that will make its much harder to restore recognition of the fundamental rights that have been taken away from parents in the process.

Nebraska Family Forum Radio Ad

Guidelines for Writing State and Local Officials

Form letters are easy, but not effective. So instead of a form letter, I'm providing a list of the major problems with Nebraska's new truancy law and the GOALS Initiative for your reference. Feel free to include any or all of these points as you feel inclined, but put it in your own words.

Please talk to all of your neighbors and friends, encourage as many as you can to get involved with this issue. Please refer them to the blog if they would like to study the issue further. There is a great overview in the talking points post on this law.

Here are some tips to follow in writing your email:

1. Include an identifier that lets the reader know right away what it’s about, such as “Please oppose the Memorandum of Understanding” or “Amend Nebraska's Truancy Law and restore parental authority” or “Major Problems with Nebraska's school attendance law and subsequent policies” or some variation thereof.

2. Copy your email to your own senator (find your senator here: http://nebraskalegislature.gov/senators/senator_list.php)

3. Begin with Dear, _____________, be sure to use their full name and title.

4. Include, “Please include this in the public record” if you would like for it to be included in the testimony for the hearing or official board meeting. It won’t be read aloud at the hearing; it will be included in each officials files so they will read it.

5. Keep it short, 1-2 paragraphs. They just need the major points of your concern.

6. If you have a personal story that illustrates why this is a problem, include a short telling of that story, about 500 or 600 words.

7. Include your name, address, and email address in your closing, as well as your phone number, if you like.

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Nebraska’s New Attendance Law diminishes the natural rights of parents and endangers the integrity and freedom of Nebraska families in these basic ways:

1. Changed the definition of a “truant” to include excused absences.
2. Created a new classification of delinquent behavior called, “excessive absenteeism”
3. Added broad prosecutorial powers to the county attorney to get involved at any stage of the process.
4. Created the GOALS Initiative which is a system for school districts to refer students to state agencies including CPS before the student has missed twenty days of school.

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Here's how it works in a nutshell:

1) We have a compulsory education law

2) This makes it necessary for the state to have a compulsory attendance law, which was rewritten in the 2010 legislative session and passed as LB800. This law stripped the classic definition of truancy out and included all absences for the criminal statute. In addition it created a whole new class of delinquent behavior called "excessive absenteeism" that requires schools to intervene early, and added a broad prosecutorial power to the law that allows the county attorney to prosecute at any stage of the process.

3) In the 2011 legislative session additions to the "attendance" law were added with the passage of LB463; this provided the state with further power over family life by allowing schools to refer students to the GOALS team, glorified CPS, well before a student has 20 absences. This combined with the broad prosecutorial power to the county attorney has to prosecute at any stage of the process is used as a "hammer" (as Judge Crnkovich and others have called it) to press parents to enter the "family service agreements" set up by these agencies or face prosecution and possible removal of their child from their home.

4) The only small protection provided families came about because of NFPF efforts to combat the law in 2011. At our insistence a caveat was added to the law that guaranteed that students wouldn't be referred to "GOALS" until they had five unexcused absences in one year. This protection was significantly diminished in Aug of 2011 when many West side school districts removed many reasonable grounds for excused absences from their district policies making it easier for kids to accrue unexcused absences and further diminishing the discretion of parents over the school attendance of their child.

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Solutions: 

It is our goal to preserve the function of the law which seeks to prevent habitual truancy and failure in school while protecting Nebraska families from government over-reach and undue scrutiny by state authorities. These proposals will preserve the original intent of the law while restoring the classic definition of truancy, protecting the natural rights of families, and providing needed interventions with "at-risk" youth.

1.) Make a clear distinction 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 in the Omaha metro, but as the beginnings of a more effective "Truancy Mentor" program, similar to Memphis, TN D.A. Truancy Mentor Program. Tennessee set the threshold for a "truant" at five unexcused days in one quarter, at which point they were referred to the D.A. for and were encouraged to enter the D.A. Mentor Program. There are similarities between their mentor program and our GOALS program. Both programs make use of community partners, faith based organizations, and a variety of services to stop the "truant" behavior (remember this is being absent without excuse).

3.) This plan would focus on law enforcement tracking unexcused absences and schools tracking other kinds of "problematic" absences.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Write Your Local Paper: It's time for everyone to do something!

The Nebraska Family Forum has supporters across the state of Nebraska and though the new "truancy" law was meant to target the Omaha metro people from across the state have recognized the serious assault on the natural rights of parents that this law represents.

We need NFPF supporters from across the state to contact not only their state senators but also their local newspapers. Besides the NFPF supporters in the Omaha Metro we have supporters in Scottsbluff, Alliance, Lincoln, Sydney, Schuyler, Superior, Sutherland, Valentine, Wallace, West Point, and York Nebraska.

What we need each of you to do is write one good letter about your concerns for the law, if you need help with the facts you can read a basic overview of the law here at the blog. Feel free to borrow anything from the blog to help you with your letters. This one letter can then be easily sent to every newspaper, lawmaker, city, county, and school district official, and finally submitted for publication here at the Forum.

There are hundreds of NFPF supporters state wide, and thousands who are reading the blog, if every one would spend just a little time to communicate their thoughts and add to the conversation the impact would be significant! This is how it's done, this is how we amend this law and restore our parental rights.

Many hands make light work, and when everyone does a little miracles happen! So, don't delay, do it today!

NEBRASKA NEWSPAPERS

Omaha-World Herald
1314 Douglas St Ste 100
Omaha, NE 68102
402-444-1000 - Telephone
402-444-1299 - Fax
pulse@owh.com

Lincoln Journal Star
926 P Street
Lincoln, NE 68508
402-475-4200 - Telephone
oped@journalstar.com
https://journalstar-dot-com.bloxcms.com/app/forms/services_forms/editorial/letter_to_editor/

OMAHA AREA NEWSPAPERS

Ashland Gazette
P.O. Box 127
1518 Silver Street
Ashland, NE 68003
Link to form to write a letter to the editor:
http://www.omahanewsstand.com/forms/

Bellevue Leader
604 Fort Crook Rd N
Bellevue, NE 68005
news@bellevueleader.com

Gretna Breeze
216 Enterprise Dr
PO Box 296
Gretna, NE 68028
news@ralstonrecorder.com

Papillion Times / La Vista Sun
604 Fort Crook Rd N
Bellevue, NE 68005
news@papilliontimes.com

Ralston Recorder
PO Box 27072
Ralston, NE 68127-0072
news@ralstonrecorder.com

Wahoo Newspaper
564 North Broadway
Wahoo, NE 68066
news@wahoonewspaper.com
Link to form to write a letter to the editor:
http://www.omahanewsstand.com/forms/

The Waverly News
P.O. Box 100
14210 Kenilworth
Waverly, NE 68462-0100
Link to form to write a letter to the editor:
http://www.omahanewsstand.com/forms/

ALL NEBRASKA NEWSPAPERS
Arranged alphabetically by city

Alliance
Alliance Times-Herald
P.O. Box G
Alliance, NE 69301
308-762-3060 - Telephone
308-762-3063 - Fax
athnews@alliancetimes.com

Ashland
Ashland Gazette
P.O. Box 127
Ashland, NE 68003
402-944-3397 - Telephone
402-944-3398 - Fax
suzi.nelson@ashland-gazette.com

Aurora
Aurora News-Register
1320 K St
Aurora, NE 68818
402-694-2131 - Telephone
402-694-2133 - Fax
http://www.auroranewsregister.com/index.php?option=com_newsforms&Itemid=8

Beatrice
Daily Sun
200 N. Seventh St
Beatrice, NE 68310-0847
402-223-5233 - Telephone
402-228-3571 - Fax
news@beatricedailysun.com
https://beatricedailysun-dot-com.bloxcms.com/app/forms/editor/

Bellevue
Bellevue Leader
604 Fort Crook Road North
Bellevue, NE 68005
402-733-7300 - Telephone
402-733-9116 - Fax
news@bellevueleader.com

Blair
Enterprise
138 North 16th Street
Blair, NE 68008
402-426-2121 - Telephone
402-426-2227 - Fax
news@enterprisepub.com

Broken Bow
Custer County Chief
P.O. Box 190
Broken Bow, NE 68822-0190
308-872-2471 - Telephone
308-872-2415 - Fax
chiefnews@custercountychief.com

Burwell
Burwell Tribune
P.O. Box 547
Burwell, NE 68823
308-346-4504 - Telephone
308-346-4018 - Fax
bwtrib@tribune2000.com

Columbus
Columbus Telegram
Address Letters to the Editor to:
The People Speak
P.O. Box 648
Columbus, NE 68602-0648
402-564-2741 - Telephone
402-563-7500 - Fax
jdean@columbustelegram.com
https://columbustelegram-dot-com.bloxcms.com/app/forms/editor/

Cozad
Tri-City Tribune
P.O. Box 6
Cozad, NE 69130-0006
308-784-3644 - Telephone
308-784-3647 - Fax
http://www.tricitytrib.com/index.php?option=com_contact&view=contact&id=6%3Aopinion&catid=12%3Acontacts&Itemid=62

Fremont
Fremont Tribune
P.O. Box 9
Fremont, NE 68026
402-721-5000 - Telephone
402-721-8047 - Fax
fremont.newsroom@lee.net
https://fremonttribune-dot-com.bloxcms.com/app/forms/editor/

Gothenburg
Gothenburg Times
P.O. Box 385
Gothenburg, NE 69138-0385
308-537-3636 - Telephone
308-537-7554 - Fax
http://www.gothenburgtimes.com/index.php?option=com_contactform&Itemid=9

Grand Island
Daily Independent
422 West 1st St
Grand Island , NE 68802
308-382-1000 - Telephone
308-381-9431 - Fax
jfaddis@theindependent.com

Hastings
Hastings Tribune
908 W 2nd St
Hastings, NE 68901
402-462-2131 - Telephone
402-461-4657 - Fax
tribune@hastingstribune.com

Imperial
Imperial Republican
P.O. Box 727
Imperial, NE 69033
308-882-4453 - Telephone
308-882-5167 - Fax
http://www.imperialrepublican.com/index.php?option=com_newsforms&task=contact&Itemid=59

Kearney
Kearney Daily Hub
13 East 22nd St
Kearney, NE 68848
308-237-2152 - Telephone
308-233-9736 - Fax
http://hub.kearneyhub.com/letterToTheEditor/index.php

Kimball
Western Nebraska Observer
118 East 2nd St
Kimball, NE 69145
308-235-3631 - Telephone
308-235-3632 - Fax
http://www.westernnebraskaobserver.net/contact

Lexington
Lexington Clipper-Herald
P.O. Box 599
Lexington, NE 68850-0599
308-324-5511 - Telephone
308-324-5240 - Fax
news@lexch.com

Lincoln
Lincoln Journal Star
926 P Street
Lincoln, NE 68508
402-475-4200 - Telephone
oped@journalstar.com
https://journalstar-dot-com.bloxcms.com/app/forms/services_forms/editorial/letter_to_editor/

McCook
McCook Daily Gazette
P.O. Box 1268
McCook, NE 69001-1268
308-345-4500 - Telephone
308-345-7881 - Fax
editor@mccookgazette.com

Nebraska City
News Press
P.O. Box 757
Nebraska City, NE 68410
402-873-3334 - Telephone
402-873-5436 - Fax
editor@ncnewspress.com

Norfolk
Norfolk Daily News
P.O. Box 977
Norfolk, NE 68702-0977
402-371-1020 - Telephone
402-371-5802 - Fax
editor@norfolkdailynews.com

North Platte
North Platte Bulletin
1300 E 4th Street, Suite F
North Platte, NE 69101
Phone (308)696-0052
Fax (308)696-0053
laura@northplattebulletin.com

North Platte
North Platte Telegraph
621 N. Chestnut
North Platte, NE 69103-0370
308-532-6000 - Telephone
308-532-9268 - Fax
http://www.nptelegraph.com/forms/letters/

Omaha
Omaha Reader
2314 M St.
Omaha , NE 68107
402-341-7323 - Telephone
402-341-6967 - Fax
news@thereader.com

Omaha
Omaha-World Herald
1314 Douglas St Ste 100
Omaha, NE 68102
402-444-1000 - Telephone
402-444-1299 - Fax
pulse@owh.com

Ord
Ord Quiz
305 South 16th St
Ord, NE 68862
308-728-3262 - Telephone
308-728-5715 - Fax
quiz@frontiernet.net

Papillion
Papillion Times
604 Fort Crook Rd N
Bellevue, NE 68005
402-339-3331 - Telephone
402-339-8562 - Fax
news@papilliontimes.com

Ralston
Ralston Recorder
604 Fort Crook Road N.
Bellevue, NE 68046
402-331-6300 - Telephone
402-733-9116 - Fax
news@ralstonrecorder.com

Scottsbluff
Scottsbluff Star-Herald
1405 Broadway
Scottsbluff, NE 69361
308-632-9000 - Telephone
308-632-9001 - Fax
http://www.starherald.com/forms/letters/

Seward
Seward County Independent
P.O. Box 449
Seward, NE 68434
402-643-3676 - Telephone
402-643-6774 - Fax
http://sewardindependent.com/index.php?option=com_editor_form

Sidney
Sidney Sun Telegraph
P.O. Box 193
Sidney, NE 69162-0193
308-254-2818 - Telephone
308-254-3925 - Fax
http://www.suntelegraph.com/cms/forms/form-49498.html

South Sioux City
Dakota County Star
1000 W. 29th Street Ste 116
South Sioux City, NE 68776
402-494-4264 - Telephone
402-494-2414 - Fax
news@dakotacountystar.com

Superior
Superior Express
148 E. 3rd St.
Superior , NE 68978-1705
402-879-3291 - Telephone
402-879-3463 - Fax
tse@superiorne.com

Tekamah
Midwest Messenger
P.O. Box 239
Tekamah , NE 68061
402-374-2226 - Telephone
402-374-2739 - Fax
support@midwestmessenger.com

Wahoo
Wahoo Newspaper
564 N Broadway St
Wahoo, NE 68066
402-443-4162 - Telephone
402-443-4459 - Fax
news@wahoonewspaper.com

Wauneta
Wauneta Breeze
P.O. Box 337
Wauneta, NE 69045
308-394-5389 - Telephone
308-394-5931 - Fax
http://www.waunetanebraska.com/index.php?option=com_newsforms&task=contact&Itemid=49

Waverly
Waverly News
14210 Kenilworth Street
Waverly, NE 68462
402-786-2344 - Telephone
402-786-2343 - Fax
joseph.evans@newswaverly.com

West Point
West Point News
134 East Grove Street
West Point, NE 68788
402-372-2461 - Telephone
402-372-3530 - Fax
newspub@cableone.net

York
News Times
327 Platte Avenue
York, NE 68467
402-362-4478 - Telephone
402-362-6748 - Fax
news@yorknewstimes.com
http://www.yorknewstimes.com/forms/

COLLEGE NEWSPAPERS

Creighton University
The Creightonian
The Creightonian Newsroom
Hitchcock Communication Arts Room 204
2500 California Street
Omaha, NE 68178
(402) 280-2825
editor@creightonian.com
http://www.creightonian.com/?page_id=2840

Doane College
The Doane Line
Doane College
Attn: Doane Line
1014 Boswell Ave.
Crete, NE 68333
doaneline@doane.edu

University of Nebraska - Lincoln
Daily Nebraskan
http://www.dailynebraskan.com/opinion/submit-a-letter-to-the-editor

University of Nebraska - Omaha
The Gateway
6001 Dodge St.
Omaha, NE 68182
P: (402) 554-2352
F: (402) 554-2735
http://www.unogateway.com/letters-to-the-editor

Nebraska Wesleyan University
Reville Online
crydl@nebrwesleyan.edu

Defending Families in the Omaha Metro: Douglas County Commissioners Meeting

By: Stephanie Morgan and Ann Summers

The Difference Your Story Makes

Yesterday, at a public hearing before county officials and press, the voices of mothers, fathers, grandmothers and grandfathers, and other concerned taxpaying citizens were heard. The hearing on the signing of this so-called Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) followed a lengthy discussion on the difficulties the commissioners face in balancing the Douglas County budget. During the discussion, many questions were asked of local administrators of county health and correctional facilities regarding how the county budget is being spent and what evidence and factual research supports its policies and expenditures. In our county commission, we saw a firm intention to keep taxes down, and to be accountable for the budget.

As discussion shifted to the MOU, Judge Crnkovich took the podium and opened with the statement that she was glad she “wasn’t up there to discuss the budget,” and with that she proceeded to advocate for the MOU and the GOALS Initiative. I thought how ironic it was that the GOALS Initiative and the Boards acceptance of the MOU was certainly about the budget, and require the spending of taxpayer money on a policy that is driven by dangerous assumptions.

Judge Crnkovich said that many families have been helped by the new focus on reducing truancy, though she shared no specific examples. She said that the GOALS Initiative is simply about getting services to families who need them and it is completely voluntary. A statement that Stephanie Morgan countered in the opening statement for the opposition by saying, "This program is not voluntary! Changes to the state statute in 2010 added broad prosecutorial powers that allow the County Attorney to become involved at any stage in the process to address excessive absenteeism. Judge Crnkovich told parents at a truancy meeting in Millard that this was a needed "hammer" to compel parents to cooperate." At the same meeting last spring Judge Crnkovich hinted at the formation of the GOALS Initiative which was already in the planning stages.

The public hearing opened up to citizen comments, and again and again, the point was made that these policies have little support, make little sense, and indeed, create more problems for families than they solve. The testimonies in opposition began with Stephanie Morgan who introduced the Nebraska Family Policy Forum and our goals to amend Nebraska's truancy law that lead to the GOAL Initiative. Brenda Vosik, took the stand to counter one of the guiding principles of GOALS and said, "the statement that, 'school attendance is the single most important element to the student’s ability to learn and be successful in school and life' is simply not true." Melanie Smotherman, the director of Family Advocacy Movement, and James L. Holt a licenced social worker spoke to the reality that all parents struggle occasionally to meet their children's needs but this Initiative is not the way to go about helping families. Ann Summers challenged the idea that correlation is causation and countered the idea that there is "a strong correlation between early truancy, continued academic and behavioral problems, eventual school dropout and delinquent behavior development."

Perhaps Judge Liz Crnkovich was surprised at the overwhelming opposition to the "plan" present at the meeting. Parent after parent took the podium in opposition of the GOALS Initiative, the memo that supports it, and the law that created it. After public testimony, Commissioner Chris Rodgers, chair of juvenile court, defended the MOU. He seemed reluctant to drive home his support because he wanted all of the parents present (including those that brought their small children and waited two hours to speak) to know that he understood their concerns.

Commissioner Rodgers likened a child's school attendance to an adult showing up for work on time, taking only the granted vacations days and sick days and said the his father never missed a day of work in his life. He also said that at the heart of the issue is one of control, he then proceeded to explain that schools have control of kids when they are at school and said that he personally "submits" his "kids to the control of the school district between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m." daily. He made it clear that he personally would not take his child out of school for an extra day to accompany his family on a vacation or other trip that might provide a learning experience. He said it just comes down to the fact that kids need to be in school. This clearly echoes the governor’s statement that, “If children aren’t in school, they aren’t learning.”

Mr. Rodgers is falling into the trap that so many people do... he is deciding that what is best for him and his family must be best for everyone's family. The difference between the normal and natural inclination to think that way for all of us, and Mr. Rodgers, is that he has the power to force his "paradigm" as you called it on the rest of us through the nature of his position of power. So while we might sometimes think our way superior we generally accept that we can do nothing to force others to do it our way and move on.
Those in positions of power are often tempted to use that power to "correct" what they believe to be irresponsible or inappropriate behavior in others through policy.

Commissioner Rodgers said that he follows the blog and could not support repeal of the law and yet the NFPF has not called for repeal for outright repeal of the law. Not one citizen who spoke in opposition of the memo supported truancy. Some protested the abuse of the term “truant” which has been redefined to include excused absences, and Commissioner Rodgers stated that he agreed this was a problem and that the law might need to be “tweaked” for these cases, since it allows no exception for them.

Some commenters asserted that learning did not have to take place in school, and again, we saw how this law affects conscientious parents who care for and tend their children’s education both in and out of the classroom, but these policies allow no exception for them. A few speakers avowed that these truancy policies are based on a basic misuse of statistical data that shows a correlation or relationship between truancy and poor academic performance (and the reverse) but no clear causation, and that policy should not be based on the suggestion of causation, but on real data to back it up.


Commissioner Rodgers stated that if we were to go down to the juvenile detention we could “see a correlation,” which merely reinforces the fact that he still misunderstands. Showing that some children who are absent also have juvenile records in no way proves that absences cause poor academic performance. But the policy allows no exception for these facts.

‎Mary Ann Stock Borgeson, was a real champion for freedom, common sense and families. She stated that she believed this memo represents “a case of government overreaching” its boundaries, and that these policies went too far. She paused proceedings several times to acknowledge the school groups of children who came to see their government in action, and she asked at the end of the hearing, “Why are school-sanctioned trips okay, but parents cannot get the same permission to take trips with their own children?” She was clearly referring not only to the memo, but to LB800.

There were several people who tried to separate the MOU under discussion from the law, including County Attorney Don Kleine, who came in toward the end of public testimonies. But Chairman Borgeson challenged them and rightly so, saying that the law and the MOU cannot be separated because one begat the other. I have been impressed with Commissioner Borgeson throughout the months we have been fighting to restore parental authority, but yesterday she received applause from the audience several times!

From listening to the comments of the commissioners it became clear that they are following the NFPF blog and reading the stories and open letters published here. These stories are having an impact. Arguments against the research or foundation of the policies were important but even more crucial were all the citizens with simply worded stories about how this law is hurting their families.

Members of our forum have been told often that the most powerful thing we are doing right now is sharing these personal stories. I have been told this by those officials who support an amendment to the law. I know that the Governor and his advisers are aware of what we are saying here. I am grateful to all those who have put their personal stories and thoughts on the website for everyone to see, and I am grateful for everyone who came and shared them at the meeting. The fight has only begun and we need to keep up the pressure on public officials.

It is important to note that every public official that has been asked to add their support to the mission and goals of the GOAL Initiative has signed the MOU except for the Douglas County Board of Commissioners and the Elkhorn Police Department. We need to send letters to everyone who signed this document and express our disappointment and letters to those who have not yet signed it expressing our support.

County Attorney, Don Kleine, who put his signature to the MOU in October, agreed that the law needed to be "tweaked" but mentioned only the need for "documented illness" to be more clearly defined as excused. He did approach our group, however, and clearly stated that he wanted to help. In testimony, he spoke to the difficult spot the legislature has put him in by dumping 3400 truancy cases into his office last year with an unfunded mandate. He assured parents that "No one is being prosecuted", but instead are being handled by the "truancy task force".

I believe that at this time he supports the GOALS Initiative not only because of his clear support for the MOU, but because he believes that the GOALS team will prevent cases from hitting the 20 day threshold, which would keep them out of his court house. He stayed after the meeting in the hall to talk to as many parents as he could, and expressed his desire to meet with our group and answer our questions.

What we saw at this hearing was very hopeful, and indicates strongly that doing the work we are doing is getting the notice and consideration of officials. But we must not stop. We must continue to keep communications open, bring forth our stories and share them, and inundate the legislators and government officials at all levels with the firm belief that this legislation and its offshoots are bad for school-policies, bad for Nebraska, and very bad for its families.

Thank Goodness for Mothers

Author, Crystal Young

Crystal is a Gretna Resident and Mother of 10. She was present at the County Board of Commissioners meeting on November 15th, 2011 and responds to comments made by Commissioner Chris Rogers. 

Commissioner Chris Rogers voiced a belief held by many, that keeping children in school keeps them out of jail, builds literacy, and deters adult criminal activity.

I humbly disagree, as a mother of ten children I believe that school is the most dangerous place I send my children. They often report the sale and use of drugs. Arrests and suspensions of drug users in the student body have occurred at least twice in the last eight weeks. They often hear conversations such as, "Where do you get your weed?" "Where is the next party?" Students are often comparing notes on how much and how often they use weed. 

I doubt that these conversations take place any less often in East Omaha than in Gretna, or Millard. Illegal drug use is rampant on any of these campuses. For this reason, I have occasionally allowed my children a day off when the peer pressure became too overbearing or simply uncomfortable to listen to. I believe that every once in a while children need to stay home where they are safe from a vulgar, taunting and immoral society that slips into immoral and illegal activity regularly.

On an academic front, proponents of the "truancy legislation" say it promotes literacy and furthers educational opportunities. Often the school is the main obstacle in preventing a child from reading or doing well. Here are two cases to illustrate.

True story: A mother became aware that her daughter did not know her times tables half way through her third grade year. Shocked and disappointed, Mom arranged to keep the daughter home from school to teach the multiplication tables. If the schools were failing, she would do the job even if it meant missing school. So for 10 days (the maximum allowed in the State of Wyoming) the daughter missed school. She rapidly learned all the times tables, jumped back into school with great confidence and rose to the top of the class.

True story number two: During the second grade year, Mom became aware that her child was not learning to read at a pace she thought the child capable. The school tried to placate Mom by telling her "Not all children will be as smart as your first children. She is just not as able." Since the child’s confidence and self esteem were being negatively impacted, Mom withdrew her daughter from school for two weeks. During those two weeks they studied at home. Confidence and ability soared. Upon re-entry in the school system, the child quickly excelled commanding a grade point average and ACT score that allowed her admission to Harvard where she graduated with full Honors. Would the outcome have been the same if allowed to struggle and be placed on an arbitrary academic path far below her capacity, I doubt it. Thank goodness for mothers.

I work with three children in East Omaha schools. The mother is most of the time unemployed and barely literate. The children ages 12, 11, and 9 are barely literate, reading at least two grades below grade level. You might think that it is for this family that we have created this law, that if these state agencies could just intervene and get this family "services" they could be helped. I believe that this family would run if faced with Social Workers and Judges with connections to the County Attorney. This is just the wrong approach and instills fear. This truancy legislation is a highly confrontational approach to curbing illegal behavior and promoting greater literacy, and will most likely fail those it is designed to help, and cause harm in families who should be left alone.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

An Open Letter: Ann Summers

Something is Rotten in the State of Nebraska

Public comments made at the Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting. Public discussion on the Memorandum of Understanding for the GOALS Initiative and the Superintendent’s Plan to Improve Attendance in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

by: Ann Summers

This GOALS Memo, states the following:

We believe that education is important for the success of our children and community.
We believe that attendance at school is the single most important element to the student's ability to learn and be successful in school and life.
We believe that parents/adult caregivers have the greatest influence on children for attendance and academic success.
We believe and acknowledge that within our community, parents/adult caregivers are occasionally challenged in meeting the needs of their children.
We believe that unmet needs of children and families can contribute to non-attendance to school.
We believe and recognize that there is a strong correlation between early truancy, continued academic and behavioral problems, eventual school dropout and delinquent behavior development.
We believe it is the responsibility of the community to support the children, parents/adult caregivers, and schools on attendance issues.
We believe that the GOALS initiative is a community resource that supports children.  Etc.”

This memo, as is clearly stated represents belief, not proof.  The entire memo repeats this word, “believe,” and then in a jumble of legalese, proposes to draw conclusions from these beliefs, “whereas,” and so forth.  Nowhere is evidence offered or even a suggestion made that the support for the policies suggested are based on anything more than beliefs and opinions.  But it is my opinion that the voting and taxpaying people of the State of Nebraska deserve much more than opinion on which to have their legislation based.

Perhaps the writers of this memo are experts.  If I am an expert, you may allow me belief that children learn better with classical music played during class.  I might further believe that they be made to listen, since “occasionally,” children deprived of music have become violent or dropped out of school.  But the minute I want to spend millions of taxpayer dollars to implement these beliefs, I must show proof.  Not correlative proof, but causative proof.  Where is the data and where is the proof?

I have seen education studies that use correlation to suggest a cause between non-attendance and low academics, as well as the reverse:  high academics and high attendance, but these studies, (including a meta-study in California and one in Ohio), in their own words and conclusions, merely suggest “causation.”  There is no proof of cause, and certainly not for all families, and yet, a law has been passed that will affect every single family in Nebraska, whether their children attend public schools or not. 

LB800’s spin-off GOALS memo has stated that it will offer “evidence-based” assistance.  Does this mean that the State can show evidence that increased attendance will result in increased academic performance?  How?  How will these increases be measured?  How will they be tracked?  Who will measure them?  Since the memo refers to accountability, who will be held accountable if millions of taxpayer dollars are spent against the will of the voting public with no positive, measurable results?  If the county attorney’s offices are swamped with absentee students and their families in the process of being turned from students into “cases,” and no good comes of it, will the county attorneys recompense those families, drop all charges, and reimburse taxpayers for all the litigation costs?

State and Federal education budgets are for education, not litigation.  If litigation and law enforcement measures are to increase so exponentially that social, family and juvenile services as well as county and state officials must sign-off in order to rubber stamp the implementation of LB800, we can see that public support is nonexistent.  Since this is public money, and since the State cannot prove that these programs are beneficial to all students, Nebraskans must have the choice to opt out.  I urge officials not to sign this memo, and to voice their disagreement with LB800. To support one is to support the other, and to make a critical error in not only logic and statistics, but of common sense.  Studies showing correlation are not equal and cannot be replaced by studies showing causality. A rigorous study with double-blind control groups and a large sample of subjects is required to support the governor's case, and to date, there is no such study. I propose that if cause is "possible" and "suggested" and further study is needed, then let us do this research first, and then pass policy that requires expenditures.

Be aware that although this legislation has passed and has found administrative support, it is one opinion with which more and more Nebraskans disagree.

Statement of Opposition to Memorandum of Understanding

Public comments made at the Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting. Public discussion on the Memorandum of Understanding for the GOALS Initiative and the Superintendent’s Plan to Improve Attendance in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

By: Stephanie Morgan
11/15/2011

Good morning, my name is Stephanie Morgan. I represent the Nebraska Family Policy Forum. We are a newly formed organization that is giving voice to growing concerns over Nebraska’s school attendance law and the subsequent policies that threaten 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 their parents.

Today you will hear from parents and citizens who will address specific concerns they have with the stated mission and guiding principles of the GOALS Initiative. For each one of them there are dozens more who were unable to attend today, who could not rearrange their busy schedules, take time off work, or leave small children to come here today and express their concerns is person. I hope that the testimonies you will hear today will help you understand the negative impact this heavy-handed approach to improving school attendance is having on families in our community.

Already thousands of children in loving homes, with parents who are actively involved, have been subjected to the oversight and jurisdiction state law enforcement as a result of this law. With the implementation and approval of the GOALS Initiative even more families will become entangled with state agencies at even earlier stages. This program is not voluntary! Changes to the state statute in 2010 added broad prosecutorial powers that allow the County Attorney to become involved at any stage in the process to address excessive absenteeism. Judge Crnkovich told parents at a truancy meeting in Millard that this was a needed "hammer" to compel parents to cooperate.

I realize that proponents of the GOALS Initiative believe that this plan will decrease the number of students who reach the 20 day threshold, but I think that you will see from the testimonies today, that a plan that “improves attendance” out of sheer fear cannot have a positive impact on children, their families, and our community.

There are some who think this fear is unfounded and that parents will be more comfortable dealing with these state agencies when they are more familiar with the process. This is the major disconnect! Why should we want to make law-abiding, hard-working, play-by-the-rules Nebraskans feel comfortable interacting with state agencies who foist upon them “services” under threat of legal action? What is positive about that goal?

I hear from parents daily who fear being judged unfit parents under this law. A fear heightened by the GOALS Initiative that prescribes (quote) “family service plans” designed to identify the “conduct of the family member which is causing harm and the services needed to mitigate or eliminate the problems within the family unit.” (Un-quote)

It is a unfounded fear when we hear daily of students who have suffered the humiliation of being treated like criminals despite excused absences, parents who entered truancy diversion programs under the threat of having their child removed from their home, and families who have been subjected to the detailed supervision of their family life by lawyers, judges, and social workers? I have with more frequency heard from parents who have decided to dissenroll their children from school entirely, at great expense and inconvenience, to avoid entanglement with law enforcement and HHS.

The NFPF will seek to amend the state statute in the 2012 legislative session. We will ask for a restoration of the classic definition of truancy. We are here today to warn that this fundamental shift of authority from parents and principals to lawyers and judges will damage the integrity of the family and by extension the well-being of children. To affirm this Memorandum of Understanding and the “guiding principles” it represents is to establish a new “normal” and crystallize a paradigm shift that will make it much harder to restore the freedoms that have been taken away. We ask each of you to use your power to put the brakes on this precipitous plan and give our community time to sort out the best way to proceed.

An Open Letter: Brenda Vosik

Public comments made at the Douglas County Board of Commissioners meeting. Public discussion on the Memorandum of Understanding for the GOALS Initiative and the Superintendent’s Plan to Improve Attendance in Douglas and Sarpy Counties.

By: Brenda Vosik

My name is Brenda Vosik. I am the mother of two boys, the stepmother of two more boys, and the grandmother of one girl. I was and still am intimately involved with raising all five of these children, whose ages range from 27 years to 12 months. I even home educated two of them for four years. Does that make me an expert in education or in raising children? I think so, I’ve got a lot of experience under my belt.

I’ve certainly got enough experience to recognize that the unequivocal statement in the GOALS team’s Memorandum of Understanding, that “school attendance is the single most important element to the student’s ability to learn and be successful in school and life” is simply not true.

A child’s ability to learn does not stem from whether or not he is sitting at a desk for 7 hours a day. Much more important factors include a loving home, good discipline, supportive parents, sound moral character, and the enrichment that comes from a good healthy balance between academics and other worthwhile pursuits. Even details such as a good night’s sleep, a nourishing breakfast, a safe trip to school and freedom from bullying while AT school have more to do with a child’s ability to learn than perfect attendance does. All of you who have been asked to sign this Memorandum of Understanding have some experience in child and family law, so you know this is true.

I will give an example from my own family. I took my children at ages 6 and 10 to Jamestown, Williamsburg and Yorktown, Virginia, the area known as the cradle of the American Revolution. They didn’t sit at a school desk for two weeks. When we returned, an 8th grade friend of ours, a straight A student who HAD been sitting at her school desk for those two weeks, asked about our trip. When I mentioned that we’d visited Yorktown, she said, “Oh…I just took a test over Yorktown yesterday.” I asked her, “Oh really? What happened at Yorktown?” She stared at me blankly for a minute before saying, “I don’t remember, but I got an A on the test!” My 6-year-old then told her that Yorktown is where the British surrendered to George Washington in 1781, and the French Navy was there helping the colonists, and the British fifers played “The World Turned Upside Down” after they surrendered. How can it be that he knew what she didn’t, when she was the one that spent the previous two weeks sitting in a classroom?

So when I read the statement that the single most important thing to my son’s ability to learn is sitting at a school desk, I know for a fact it’s not true. With your collective experience, you also know it’s not true, and I ask that you think carefully before you sign a document saying you believe it is.

Brenda Vosik
Millard Public Schools
Omaha, NE