Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The Ballosingh Family : Between family and school

Nebraska’s new “truancy” law has caused me a great deal of anxiety over talking my son out of school for any reason. After the legislature changed the states truancy law from a law about truancy in the classic sense to in essence a “school attendance” law, an excused absence became irrelevant.

Millard school district Superintendent commented on the new “attendance law” at a school board meeting and told parents that because the law makes no distinction between the reasons for an absence that the district no longer pays deference to previously excused absences under the policy like personal illness (even without a doctor’s note), appointments, a funeral, wedding, or graduation, etc. He said, “Changes in our policies are to line up with the State law”. “Are to line up”, tells me that the law has effectively eliminated the concept of excused absences and regardless of the reason I give my school for my son’s absence it could cause me and my son to answer to a judge. 

My stress over this law intensified when my mother became very ill while visiting my sister in New York and was hospitalized with seizures of unknown causes. My sister needed my help to care for my mother and I had to take my son with me to New York because his father works 12 hour-shift, days and I have no other family here in Nebraska. Though my son is on the honor roll and up until then had NO history of absences I was still worried. It was the things I can’t predict that concerned me. What would I do if my mother became ill again and it required more time away from school? 

My anxiety over the trip was compounded when I found out that the Millard school district had revised their attendance policies and would not allow my son to take his work with him. The policy designed to discourage planned absences, makes it more likely that my son will fall behind in school when he misses school. Not only will my son be required to make up his work after he returns but he will have twice the work load keeping up on current work at the same time. The state law and my school district has put my family in an impossible situation where I am forced to choose between my only parent and my only child. 

I see these senarios playing out in my friends around me and I wonder how we got to this place in Nebraska, of all places. A friend of mine was also in an impossible situation. My friend, a single mom with no family here in Nebraska (Sudanese placed resident), works for the Douglas County Health Department. When her state job required all of the staff in her department across the state to attend a three day mandatory training in Kearney, she had no choice but to drive her children to Minnesota (where her nearest family member lives) the Friday before, drive back to Kearney to 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 “unexcused” days of school and as a result she has been “referred” to the GOALS team. She is dealing with social workers who are investigating her. They scrutinize how long she leaves her children unattended from when school is out to when she gets home from work. Unfortunately for her she does not have the resources and is trying to be as compliant as possible. 

How did we get to this place? Why have Nebraska lawmakers created a law that inspires school districts to go so far to “improve attendance” that they actually make it harder for kids to be responsible students when they need to be absent from school? Is it responsible for lawmakers pass a law that requires the state scrutiny of a hard working single mom doing her best for her kids simply because her kids miss some school? We are on the wrong track with this law and I hope that it’s not too late to turn it around. I risk entanglement with CPS and juvenile court when I exercise my parental authority to judge what is in the best interest of my son and family when school attendance is involved not to mention the potential it has to affect my license to practice in the state of Nebraska in my health profession. The loss of this freedom is directly linked to the law passed in Lincoln and in order to recover what I have lost it is absolutely nessisary that lawmakers restore the distinction between excused and unexcused absences. In the words of Albert Einstein, " sometimes education gets in the way of learning". 

Dawn Ballosingh
Millard School District
Omaha, NE

2 comments:

  1. Your story is heart wrenching! I am sure there are many more people if not thousands experiencing this same dilemma in our state because of this law. I would hope someone feels the shame of such unnecessary bullying. I am most disturbed that Millard prohibits school work to be made up while away or before going on a trip. Crystal Young

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  2. Dear Dawn, I have looked at your story with pain and disgust. Unless I woke up in Red China this morning, you should have a right to have a say in what constitutes an Excused Absence. I too, went through a battle with the Nebraska School System over indoor air quality in 2004-2005 at Columbus High Schools renovation program. While this comment section does not allow details, I will say that the lack of interest in our Child’s welfare on the part of the School System cost many students their health and my Daughter her life. I am currently lobbying for clean air laws in our Schools and am interested in many aspects of your story. My e-mail is cams1hog@yahoo.com. if you and others with your situations are interested in a united effort to help our children and families. Keep up the fight and God Bless You.

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