Friday, December 16, 2011

Education is About Providing Opportunities

Today my son missed a once in a lifetime opportunity to tour a top secret government facility where his father works everyday to protect our nation and the world from threats to our freedom! He missed this special STRATCOM open house because of Nebraska's new "truancy" law that would have counted the day unexcused, something we could not risk. Yet another example of the small ways this law stifles our children's opportunities and diminishes our freedoms.

This week at a special Judiciary Committee executive session, Omaha South High School Principle Cara Riggs, said it is her job to “provide opportunities for success” for her students.  Cara went on to explain that the classic definition of truancy just doesn’t work anymore. She was clear that she believes it is unacceptable for kids to miss school for any reasons other than serious illness. When questioned later by Sen. Amanda McGill about kids who miss school to participate in educational and enrichment opportunities that can only happen outside of school she said, “You're either there or you're not, people!!”

Today my son was there, in school, despite the fact that in his mother and father's opinion he should have been touring SRATCOM, where his dad has worked for 8 years. In that time we have never seen his office, never walked the halls of the building where everyday hundreds of soldier and civilian government employees go to work in our city to protect the Globe from looming dangers. How many of us realize this, how many of us appreciate what they do for us? While I was there I felt sad that I had not brought my 13 year old boy, that he was missing out on a fantastic opportunity to see the incredible efforts that are made to protect his freedom everyday. I am just kicking myself, that I let my mother's judgement be supplanted by the judgement of men like State Education Commissioner Rodger Breed and Senator Brad Ashford.

Sen. Ashford's own webpage defines truancy as “unexcused absences in public schools.” In his words, “One of the first signs that can predict a path of trouble for many youth is their absence from school (other than for parent-excused absences and illness).” Why then has his law made my son's parent-excused absence count as truancy? If his public statements reflect his personal beliefs then he should have absolutely no objection to restoring the true definition of truancy to the state statute and shield kids with excused absences from having dealings with county law enforcement in any way.

As the law is written now, it is too risky to allow my child this type of enrichment activity during school hours. For the sake of all our kids I hope that we can agree on this basic premise, that parents have a fundamental right to direct the upbringing and education of their children and that they do not forfeit those rights upon enrollment of their child in public school. They are not required to sacrifice the well being of their children to provide educational opportunities to other children.

I am not asking for public officials tasked with the protection and welfare of children to repeal the law. I am not asking society to turn a blind eye to the plight of children who are failing to receive an education. I am not asking them to scrap the coordinated efforts to provide earlier interventions in cases that will likely lead to academic failure or worse. But I am asking them to restore the true definition of truancy and place more trust in the good old Nebraska common sense of parents.

I believe we can preserve parental authority, reach "at-risk" truants, protect honor roll students, protect students with health issues, and navigate the many special circumstances that exist among our youth. We can't do it perfectly, but we can make a worthwhile effort. I find myself wondering why intelligent people like Governor Heineman, Sen. Ashford, and Education Commissioner Rodger Breed can’t see that there is a simple way to correct course and still extend help to those in need without punishing the majority of hard working, play-by-the rule Nebraskans.

Whatever the challenge that must be addressed, whatever the needs that must be met, we must be certain that any law has as its priority, the protection of the innocent. Whatever good is extended to those in need, whatever services are provided, the law must first protect the innocent and the freedoms of individual families or it is a bad law.

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