Tuesday, November 15, 2011

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

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.

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