Thursday, December 29, 2011

Response from Senator Beau McCoy

Dear [Concerned Citizen],

Thank you for contacting me regarding truancy in Nebraska.

Before 2010 and the passage of LB 800, the truancy laws of Nebraska required school districts to have a written policy describing how they would notify their county attorney of truancy. By law before LB 800, school districts were required to send notification once 20 absences were reached and could make the decision to notify the county attorney after fewer absences. What LB 800 changed is the school district's ability to use or not use excused absences.

This caused issues with students who were ill or had medical issues that kept them out of school. In response, Senator Ashford introduced LB 463 in 2011 to clarify school districts, in collaboration with their county attorney, must have in their written district policy how they will handle "cases in which excessive absences are due to documented illness that makes attendance impossible or impracticable."

School districts are allowed to pass policies that state the school district will notify the county attorney after a child has accumulated 10 absences. This is the case with Millard Public Schools and was allowed prior to the passage of LB 800 and LB 463.

All Learning Community school districts now use the same form to notify the county attorney of excessive absenteeism. On this form the school district is able to check off the recommendations that the "absences are documented illnesses that makes attendance impossible or impracticable."

One misconception is that before the passage of LB 800 and LB 463, parents were allowed to excuse their child from school for any reason they chose. In 1901, Senate File No. 231 became law requiring children between the ages of seven and fourteen to attend school.

In 1959, LB 492 was signed into law requiring children to attend school "each day that schools are in session except when excused by school authorities, unless such child has been graduated from high school." I recommend you speak with your school board members about your concerns as to what constitutes an excused absence, as this is not set by the state.

In regards to visiting a dying grandparent, Millard Public Schools does excuse students per their district policy, due to the death or serious illness of the student's family member, which includes grandparents. If your child was not allowed to be excused due to a grandparents dying, I encourage you to speak with the school district and your school board members to correct the attendance record.

Thank you again for sharing with me your concerns over Nebraska's truancy laws. I encourage you to follow the Unicameral when we reconvene for the 102nd Legislature, 2nd Session in January 2012. "The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness in the Citizen."

Beau McCoy
State Senator, District 39


  1. I am deeply frustrated by this response from Senator McCoy. He is a good man who I thought would be able to see more easily the heart of what this new law is doing. He needs to hear from more people - not just constituents, anyone affected or concerned. Please, be polite and respectful - albeit direct - if you contact him. If you're like me, you're feeling angry that your representatives seem more inclined to listen to "the experts" than the people whose lives are being directly affected by their laws. Don't let that anger translate to an uncivil tone. Stick to the issues; share your feelings and experiences; be respectful; and keep the attitude of hope in the ability to persuade with the right illustration.

  2. Senator McCoy encourages citizen involvement. This law changed the reporting of absences, the involvement of the Courts, the involvement of State agencies without guaranteeing that parents would be given any options to decline "intervention." As a citizen I want my right to fail to be protected as well as my right to succeed. Either case may require me taking my child from "school" and violating state attendance policy. Violating attendance policy and suffering the consequences of getting C's, D's, B's or A's should not carry a criminal offenses. Parents should not be at the mercy of one or two subjective voices and the County Attorney to substantiate every parental decision. I thank Senator McCoy for the invitation to speak up and write letters. I am heart broken that he would expect me to take time away from my 7 children still at home to protect the women, children, and families of this state who's lives are being micromanaged by wellintending but over reaching government officials.

  3. I don't really hear his support for or against this law in what he has written. But because of that, I don't hear him saying he will do anything to change it and that is surprising. Perhaps that is what should specifically be asked of him....

  4. Could there be any more direct way to affect government than to go to the member closest to you?

    It is clear that the districts have had this ability for a long time. It's not the legislature but the Learning Community who has tightened the policy.

    If we are unhappy with the policy we must go directly to the school board and the learning community to make sure they are accurately keeping track of absentees and to make sure their policies are not over bearing.

    I agree with Dec 29 anonymous. What specifically would you like the legislature to do?

    I thank Senator McCoy for his response and willingness to listen.

  5. The changes made at the Learning Community via the "Superintendents Plan to Improve School Attendance" were mandated by the state legislature under LB 463. This is one of the clear inaccuracies in the Senator's letter.

    An exception for documented illness was not the primary reason for LB 463. It's core function was a state mandate directed at the learning community that created the GOALS Initiative. This created a convergence of law enforcement and education, information sharing between schools and state agencies, and made learning community funding available to the state and local agencies tasked with enforcement of the new tougher school attendance law.

    The learning community did not tighten the noose of their own volition, it was a state mandate and was state sanctioned. For this reason the solution is a state solution. This website details our specific ideas for amendment that will preserve the intent of the law while at the same time making our state truancy law consistant with truancy laws throughtout the US and in harmony with the definition of truancy per the US Department of Justice; which is to be absent without permission.

    There is certainly a need for parents to be involved at the school board level, and when and if we are sucessful in restoring the classic definition of truancy, parents will need to work with their school boards to craft common sense attendance policies.

    As it stands now the disrticts must throw all students who miss 20 days into the county attorney's net regardless of whether their absences are excused. In this way the state rests control from local school districts and has caused a 1000% increase in "truancy" filings in douglas county.

  6. I also appreciate the Senator's response and willingness to listen. He's a good guy.

    You're right about needing to talk to the school districts. They control the excused/unexcused lists, and they have made clear their willingness to terminate recognition of all sorts of reasons for excuse that they used to accept, now that they have state encouragement received in the form of this law. We must hold them accountable for their arrogant assumption that they can know what's best for every child under their jurisdiction.

    But, even if we get those attendance policies changed, kids will still be referred to the county attorney at 20 days, no exceptions. Only the legislature can change that. And the Learning Community only created their GOALS policy after the state legislated its authority to do so.

    The fix we see - and will be introducing as an amendment to the new law - is to recognize truancy as it was recognized by Nebraska before - as days of unexcused absence. Secondly, you tighten the threshold for criminal truancy to, say, 5 unexcused days per quarter or 10 per year. This will strongly encourage people to put pressure on school districts to employ reasonable attendance policies. Can you imagine the uproar if they started sending kids to law enforcement for taking a family vacation, or staying home to be with a new sibling, or going on a mission trip to Haiti?

    Keeping the GOALS team is actually fine, as I see it, because it can help get services to the people who actually want them, before they end up at the CA's office, while protecting the people who don't want them from being forced into them.