Monday, January 30, 2012

There is more to learning than attendance

written by: Scott Jurgensmeier

The single-minded focus on “excessive absenteeism” would seem to fly in the face of every other issue that we discuss with relation to education. We are told that we need qualified teachers or students won’t learn. We are told that we need clean buildings that are in good repair or children won’t learn. We are told that schools need to be safe; if kids do not feel safe they will not learn. We debate what curriculum and what level of technology we should have to insure children can learn. We discuss proper class size with the thought that if classes are too large children won’t learn. We provide discounted or free lunches and/or breakfasts to kids, as hungry kids won’t learn.

I am not arguing against any of the above items. I am merely pointing out that it would seem that kids actually have some part in whether education is going to be successful. There is more to learning that being at a certain building for a prescribed period of time. My daughter broke her arm once and she missed time from school. I could have forced her to go to school in those first few days, but as she cried in pain all day she would not have learned anything much and would have distracted from the education of other children and the work of the teacher.

If a child feels harassed by CPS workers and County Attorney’s with the fear they will be taken from their family, this could easily impact their ability to learn.

More over the final level of this law is actually separating children from their parents. The position of this law is that by taking my child from home she would learn better. In the real world, if the Court took my young daughter from her family she would not be thinking about Math. She would be thinking about home and family. Being placed in Foster Care would actually be more likely to inhibit her learning for a longer period of time than missing 20 days in a school year.

A child needs to be in a safe, clean building, with plenty of food, good teachers, modern technology and small class sizes to learn. But we are to believe that missing their family and not understanding why they can’t go home will have no impact on educational achievement.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Personal Impact: Kids With Special Needs

It is sometimes hard for those whose children enjoy full health to understand how difficult it is for parents with special needs children; to have your parenting constantly evaluated and scrutinized by professionals and experts. The politics of dealing with school administrators and advocating for your child can be very difficult. This Millard mother has written her family's personal story but prefers her family's identity to remain anonymous.

I have three children, two of whom are either disabled or sick. My oldest daughter, 11, has Asperger’s Syndrome. She was diagnosed last year after a battery of tests performed by an experienced psychologist in Lincoln (we live in Omaha). She also completed an intense vision therapy program and continues to have an on-going occupational therapy program. Due to all those appointments, plus a few small sicknesses, we hit the 20 day mark sometime in April 2011. The social worker gathered all my data and the county attorney declined to prosecute.

Fast forward to this year. This same daughter missed two full weeks of school in September after pneumonia was diagnosed later than it should have been. She then missed another week because she caught influenza (and yes, she had been vaccinated). Now, on top of her weekly occupational therapy appointments—only 1.5 hours missed per week—her immune system is weak and she is catching every little virus she comes across. We are now at 23 days absence.

In addition, my second daughter, who is 9, had been diagnosed with IBS, anxiety disorder, and, as of yesterday, vestibular migraines. She also missed a full week of school with a kidney infection. So now we’re somewhere around day 18 for her.

We have clearly had an unusal fall as far as attendance goes. And I have documented every sickness by going to the doctor and wasting their time and my insurance co-pay so I can get a note even though I know we have a migraine situation occurring. Or my oldest has a 100.5 fever. Or the middle one hasn’t been able to poop for two days and needs to take a load of Miralax.

In light of all this, our school social worker, who has been exceedingly supportive and helpful with us, told me this week she is concerned that the county attorney will only see that I have one child who was “on the list” both last year and this year and another child who is joining her. It doesn’t matter that they both are excelling in school. It also doesn’t matter that my kindergarten-aged son has attended every school day but one. (Because I’m going to drive him 15 minutes to school each day and let the others be truant? Really?)

I asked if I should get an attorney at this point. The social worker said that the first round is basically herding the parents into the courtroom and having the judge “read the riot act” to them. Hmmm…let me think about that…NO WAY am I going to be berated by someone for following the school’s handbook and keeping my kids out of school when necessary. I’m so frustrated.

So I’m holding on to the rollercoaster as it nears its apex. Bring it on.

LB 821 Poses Great Danger to the Family and Civil Liberties

On Sunday, Jan. 1, there was an article in the Omaha World-Herald about legislation that will be introduced during the current session of the Nebraska Unicameral.

 Questions about child welfare to dominate Nebraska Legislature - Omaha.com

It reads:
"Nebraska's 2012 legislative session looks to be the year of the child.

"During the next four months, lawmakers will wrestle with key questions about the future of child welfare and juvenile justice in the state.

"How they answer...those questions will shape the lives of abused and neglected Nebraska children and youthful troublemakers."

But how they answer those questions will also shape the lives of regular, ordinary children too, especially since Nebraska has been showing an unsettling willingness to draw the parameters wider and wider for what constitutes an "abused" or "neglected" child or "youthful troublemaker." Nebraska has a serious problem with breaking up families – it does so at the second highest rate in the nation. And it has recently begun removing children from their families for what the state deems to be poor school attendance, under the new “truancy” law.

It’s good that Nebraska is working to address the serious problems in its child welfare system, and some positive proposals are being advanced this session. However, two of the proposals mentioned in the article, and brought together in one bill, LB 821, are deeply concerning. These proposals would only intensify the problems the system now faces.

LB 821 proposes to create a 26-person Children's Commission, and a brand new state children's agency. (LB 821 - http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/Intro/LB821.pdf ) The bill recognizes the major problems with Nebraska's current child welfare system, but it proposes to remedy these problems by creating more government!

In addition to the simple paradox of creating more government to solve a problem created by government, I believe that these two legislative proposals present a threat to every Nebraska family in another way.  These two proposals would establish in Nebraska a framework that could implement the concepts contained in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC), an overreaching document which the U.S. Congress has refused to ratify for 22 years.

The UN CRC was written in 1989. It aims to bring the oversight for every child's welfare under the jurisdiction of the state. You'll find that many good ideas are expressed in its wording (http://www2.ohchr.org/english/law/crc.htm), but in practice, it replaces the judgment of parents with those of unelected state bureaucrats. It views the family with suspicion, and attempts to regulate the affairs of every family in accordance with the values (or, some might say, lack of values) of these unelected bureaucrats. It is a serious threat to the fundamental rights of parents, and thereby, a serious threat to children.

One of the features of the UN CRC at the international level is the institution of an 18-member unelected committee, the Committee on the Rights of the Child, which is made up of members considered to be “experts” in child welfare. This body directs countries on how to implement the CRC’s agenda. In essence, it tells countries what they feel countries need to do to improve children’s welfare, and how to treat its citizens in accordance. It would take pages to catalogue the offenses committed by this committee against free societies, family integrity, and children’s welfare.

Now back to Nebraska. LB 821 creates a huge, unelected Children’s Commission, which “shall consist of twenty-six members representing the three branches of government and a wide array of public and private stakeholders." Not only does this echo the UN structure by creating a committee with the power of oversight and direction, it creates a commission in which all three branches of government are brought together. This is dangerous!

The protections afforded by our system of government are dependent on these branches staying separate. Bringing them together in such a fashion creates a situation in which judges will be ruling on things they've already reached consensus on with legislators and the governor; and legislators will be passing laws that they've already reached consensus on with the judges who might hear challenges to those laws. And these decisions will be about what’s best for your children.

Commissions such as this almost inevitably move the social and political climate in a direction which accepts the collective “society” as better at determining what is best for a child, than are the parents of that child. When 26 people with this kind of power sit around a table together and agree about what’s best for children, it will be very dangerous for people who have other ideas.

The agency created by LB 821, the Department of Children’s Services, is directed to be a "child-focused" agency. A child welfare system that proposes to focus on children will miss the mark. A healthy child welfare system must be “family-focused.” A “child-focused” system creates a culture in which the state employees tend to believe they always know what’s best for the children who come into their system because, once again, of the collective consensus, which they are charged to implement.

 A “family-focused” system recognizes that virtually all parents love their children, that children’s psychological and often physical well-being are dependent upon being with their parents – even when there are problems – and that when there are serious problems in a family that require intervention, whether that family is wealthy or poor, well-educated or ill-educated, lives a healthy lifestyle or doesn’t, parents just need support in learning skills to care for the child they love.

Furthermore, creating this children’s agency will increase the danger to all Nebraska families as the agency seeks to do what government bodies always seek to do: increase power, and the funds that come with it. The “child welfare” system in this country is already a $1 billion-plus industry.  A state children’s agency is likely to put more families in danger as it seeks to compete with other state agencies for that power and those funds.

Other sections which create serious concerns about the effects this bill would have are as follows (with commentary in red and using page and line numbers, rather than sections of the bill, to make it easier to locate):

pg. 4, line 16 - "An independent entity specializing in medicaid analysis shall conduct a cross-system analysis of current services and funding sources to...provide information which will allow the replacement of state general funds for services to at-risk children and youth with federal funds, with the goal of expanding the funding base for such services while reducing overall state General Fund expenditures on such services." They want to find ways to make Nebraska more dependent on federal dollars for its child welfare services.

pg. 7, line 1 - "The executive committee of the Nebraska Children's Commission is created. The executive committee shall consist of the members of the commission listed in subdivisions (2)(a) through (e) of this section. The executive committee shall advise the commission with respect to the interaction among the three branches of government related to child welfare programs and services. The members of the executive committee shall each represent his or her own branch of government, and no member of the executive committee shall participate in actions that could be deemed to be the exercise of the duties and prerogatives of another branch of government or that improperly delegate the powers and duties of any branch of government to another branch of government." They recognize the potential for problems in this area, and they think a line in the law will prevent it from happening.

pg. 7, line 18 - "Such networks shall permit community collaboration to strengthen the continuum of services available to child welfare agencies and to provide resources for persons outside the child protection system."  They want to provide ways to draw kids into state services that are not in any need.

pg. 8, line 14 - "Provision of leadership, by the commission and the Department of Children's Services, in intentional strategies to support high-quality evidence-based prevention and early intervention services that reduce risk and enhance protection for children." This may mean appropriate services for people who are already in the system, but this is far from clear. It could very well mean that since there are many children whose family life doesn’t justify a need for state intervention, the state needs to come up with more ways to peg children as "at-risk" to get them into the system.

“Prevention” and “early intervention” rely on profiling to create categories of “pre-crime.” When applied to those who have done nothing wrong, and used to justify government involvement, it becomes preemptive intervention – “you might have a problem,” “something could happen.” An example of Nebraska already engaging in this type of “pre-filing” is the new truancy law, which operates from the premise that a child “may” become a delinquent if he misses 20 days of school, and therefore the state is justified in creating a juvenile court file on him and dragging his family through an intrusive “diversion” process.   This is not something that people and families in a free society have to worry about. Passing this bill, and creating a system with this potential, would be a giant leap away from a free society, and huge danger to families.

pg. 9, line 3 - "The Department of Health and Human Services shall implement a process to obtain and utilize data analytics, business intelligence, or similar information technology for accessing real time data in order to foster better decision making with the goal of better outcomes relating to services to children and families." The biggest problems with this provision are the broad, nebulous nature of it, and the glaring question, “Why?” Why does HHS want this power? HHS is in the business of providing social services to those who need them. It should not be in the business of monitoring all Nebraskans. In light of the provision mentioned above (pg. 8, line 14), we have the potential for a system that watches people’s behavior and allows the state to pull them in although no crime has ever been committed.


There is much to be concerned about in this bill. Should these proposals pass legislative vote and become law, I believe the agenda of the UN CRC would be well on its way to being implemented in Nebraska, through the apparatus created by this bill.

The solution to Nebraska's child welfare crisis does not lie in creating more layers of government to oversee and intervene in families' lives. Instead, it lies in strengthening - through legislation and the culture it fosters - respect for the bond between parents and children, and respect for the natural rights of parents; in lies in expanding and emphasizing child welfare systems that make in-home care top priority; and it lies in scaling back - not expanding - the government apparatus that has the authority to make life-altering decisions for Nebraska's families.

The Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature will hold the public hearing on this bill Wednesday, February 1 at 1:30, in room 1510 of the Capitol. Please contact the Health and Human Services Committee and your senator, and ask them to oppose this bill and work on a better solution to Nebraska's child welfare system crisis.


Contact Info for HSS Committee

Contact info for Senators

Friday, January 27, 2012

The Sumsion Story

My son, Spencer, is an early intervention miracle. He was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum before he turned three years old. Through the hard work of many dedicated teachers and professionals, at nine, most people cannot tell he is on the spectrum.

Unfortunately, due to personnel changes in the Butler County School District, his education experience deteriorated. After a month in school this year, he came home almost every day, in tears. He withdrew into himself, lashed out at me and generally seemed to forget how to smile or communicate. He regressed to melt downs almost every day and began hitting and throwing things at school.

After observing in the classroom, it was immediately apparent to me and to an Autism Coordinator that I called in, that the classroom was set up in a way that overloaded his senses and the adults interacting with him lacked the skill or desire to accommodate his unique educational needs. The situation escalated to a point where I pulled him out of school to remove him from the hostile environment.

When I finally had him home, I spent the first month unable to educate him in math or reading. My curriculum consisted of convincing him that he was a good boy. No parent should have to experience telling their child they are a good kid and have their child respond with eyes wide with surprise, and whisper, “I am?”

Put yourself in my shoes. My child, who came so far against the odds of his disability, was taught at school that he was a bad kid. Why would I send him back to a place where he received that debilitating message?

With no previous knowledge of homeschooling procedure in Nebraska prior to pulling my son, I was unaware of the excessive and stifling rules associated with changing learning environments. Spencer missed enough school before the paperwork was processed that I received a letter from the county attorney threatening prosecution if I didn’t send my son back to school immediately.

At that point, I had no viable alternative. I sent him back and I watched him deteriorate once again. I cannot adequately communicate the relief I felt once I received my homeschooling paperwork and I could again make decisions for my child’s education without fear of criminal charges.

What I didn’t understand through the whole ordeal is why I would be threatened with truancy charges when I knew where my child was and I took the initiative to educate him.

No law, no matter how well meaning, should force a parent to send a child to a hostile environment. No state, especially not Nebraska, should penalize a parent for taking over the reins of an out of control situation. I beg you. Bring reason back to truancy definitions and stop parental persecution for making decisions about their child’s heath, education and well-being.

Sabrina Sumsion

The Mancebo Family

This law is a nightmare! My child has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome & was suppossed to be allowed 2 rest breaks per day. Her teacher last year decided that she was "faking" the need for breaks & refused to let her have them even after multiple meetings with the District Special Ed people, principal, special ed teacher & school nurse.

Since she was not being given the breaks she needed there were many days that she was having flare ups & she stayed home because she knew that her needs would not be met by the school. I received letters with a final one indicating that I would be refered to the County Attorney's office if she had one more absence.

I called the school social worker & thanked her for the letter and told her that I was truly looking forward to my day in court because I was looking forward to being able to share with the County Attorney how the school had ignored her rights and the legal requirements placed on them through her IEP.

Miraculously, I never received another letter, even after my daughter missed additional days. This year has been better. The teacher has honored the IEP & the breaks have allowed my daughter to be in school the majority of the time.

Tami Maldonado-Mancebo
Millard Public Schools
Omaha, NE

The Hanigan Family

I am extremely concerned about the new Nebraska Truancy law. My child has been suffering from severe anxiety and what we originally thought was severe depression starting last spring. We arranged mental health counseling but saw little improvement over the spring and summer despite increasing mental health therapy to twice a week. The psychiatrist diagnosed my daughter with high functioning Autism/Aspergers and said that rather than depression we were seeing sensory overload and shut down. She recommended working with an OT as well as continuing counseling and medication. To do Occupational Therapy she must miss class once a week. This therapy has eliminated her need to spend hours curled up in a ball to deal with sensory overload.

Luckily for us the occupational therapy was able to happen during study hall and lunch so it is not  counted as an absence, but even if she had to miss class, we would be much better off to miss class rather than wait months for a non-school time to open up. Unfortunately we may still exceed the 20 absence rule by the end of the school year.

The days that my daughter misses school are not optional, if she is going to return to being a functional healthy teenager she has to see the psychiatrist. She also had to miss school to be hospitalized . My daughter is Autistic and fighting mental health problems, I can not imagine how much distress it will cause her if she has to appear in court for being truant!

We are in a no win solution. We could avoid the truancy law by having our daughter drop out of school, but this would be a drastic solution, especially since she is a good student who despite her mental health issues managed to have a 3.5 GPA for the 1st semester.

We could home school, but I can not provide as good an education as she is receiving and she loves school. So for now we will hope she does not get sick for the rest of the school year and that by some miracle we manage to keep her absences under 20. It is wrong that my daughter who is already dealing with debilitating anxiety must also worry that she will wind up in court because she is seeking treatment for her anxiety.

I can assure you that she has read every Internet article about the poor families that have had to go to court due to health related absences. Why is it that the state of NE thinks it is acceptable to add stress and discourage necessary medical care for children on the grounds that some parents falsely claim their children are ill. I always thought we strove to protect the rights of the innocent.

It would seem to me that the law could at least allow the schools and parents to agree that an absence is necessary or beneficial for a child so that only absences where the school and parents disagree would need to be turned over to the court system. I sincerely hope that Nebraska amends this law. I have heard that it is dramatically reducing absences but the personal and emotional cost to families dealing with medical crisis is unconscionable. It is no different than saying it is okay to make 99 innocent men stay in jail if it helps keep one guilty man from going free. This is how France operates not the United States.

Linda Hanigan

The Volkmer Family

My 18 year old son goes to Syracuse Public School in Syracuse Ne. He has missed 57 periods - which in an 8 hour day is 7 days plus 1 hour. He has a stomach disorder which we have been working to diagnose and we finally saw a GI specialist last month. The school has turned him over to the county attorney for excessive absences! I am so upset over this!

All of my son's absences have been excused by the school, they are marked as medical, the day of his grandfather's funeral the records show it as an absence. The records do not show any unexcused, on all of these days I called the school letting them know what was going on. Only 4 of these days are "documented" in the sense that I have a doctors note, but I don't take him to the doctor every time he's sick it isn't necessary.

He missed one day when his grandfather passed away.

The school is aware of is stomach issues, the guidance counselor thinks he has nothing to worry about since he has his time made up. Syracuse school states you must make up any thing over 10 periods, he was over in 7th and 8 period with 11 absences as he will get sick at times after lunch. This is also the time of day he would get in to see the doctor which is in a different town .

I am so confused by this law that I had to get an attorney, I am a single parent on limited income so getting the attorney wiped out my savings. His absences are 7th & 8 period not the entire day! He has better grades then in the past several years and according to the guidance counselor less absences than last year when he was first afflicted with this stomach disorder. I know what to do! Our attorney has filed a denial to this court hearing. She is reading up on this as she is unfamiliar with this new truancy law too.

Vicki Volkmer

Open Letter: Vicki Schmer

I am extremely concerned and quite frankly....angry...about this truancy law. I have a child with a chronic health condition and, like it or not, he misses school from time to time. Should I have sent him to school with RSV and a temp of 105.4 or risk going to jail? I know this is completely over simplifying this issue. I will rally every single person and parent that I know to get this repealed.

The hemorrhaging of students in northwest Omaha's OPS district is unbelievable and my family is one of those moving elsewhere. We would rather lose money on our homes than lose our children to a school district that would rather think of itself as a welfare business. 

Parents need to stand up and let people know that we will not be pushed aside. I honestly think there are lots of people who are concerned about this, but have no idea what to do to address the issue. Circle the wagons....the parents are coming!!!

Vicki Schmer
Omaha Public Schools
Omaha, NE

Thursday, January 26, 2012

The Judiciary Committee will hear the three bills to fix Nebraska’s truancy law

SAVE THE DATE!!

Friday February 3rd starting @ 1:30 pm

WRITE YOUR SENATORS. COME SHOW YOUR SUPPORT!

The Nebraska Family Forum Supports the Fulton Bill, LB 1165, here's why:

  1. LB 1165 will put government back in its proper order. It is a strong, clear state truancy statute that designates appropriate control over attendance policy to school districts, and the communities who fund and govern them. 
  2. It allows authorities to reach truant students much earlier than they could under the old statute, by requiring students with unexcused absences to be referred to law enforcement much sooner. 
  3. It ensures that children with excused absences - including kids who are sick, spending quality time with a deployed parent, visiting a sick relative, traveling with family, and pursuing athletic and educational excellence - will never be punished under the law. 
  4. LB 1165 honors the rule of law upon which a civil society must be based. If this committee will pass Fulton’s bill you will have established a law that is just, known, and predictable; a law that places appropriate restraints on the politic and will prevent the arbitrary use and abuse of power. 
  5. LB 1165 removes the power of county attorney’s to get involved at any stage in the process to address “excessive absenteeism”. There is a clear point of legal intervention which provides essential protections to the innocent, but the bill does not cripple the ability of schools to expose educational neglect.

The Svoboda Family

I don't have time to write the details of my experience with this "truancy" law, but I can tell you that the stress and aggravation that the law caused us is substantial and these stories are not limited to the Omaha area. 

Our experienced occurred while we were in Ogallala when my grade school boy was having terrible problems with his ear infections and operations. We continued to have trouble this year while going to Lincoln High in which we told the school that the activity would be too strenuous and he would get ill and he did. 

Trying to deal with the schools in themselves and trying to get your child educated is enough stress for special needs parents without these letters from the county attorney. I had a feeling the school in Ogallala liked the feeling of power that the letter from the county attorney gave them.

Amy Svoboda
Lincoln, NE

The Bartenhagen Family

In my opinion the 2010 School Attendance Law is a foolish law setup by lawmakers that are worried about offending someone, so rather than pointing to specific districts and even specific schools within that district that aren't doing a good job they pass a one size fits all law because that is the politically correct thing to do.

Last year my son had a series of 3 brain surgeries and therefore missed over 20 days of school. The school was very aware of why he had missed school; in fact the principal, his teacher, and the school guidance counselor all visited him while he was in the hospital. We received the letter that said he missed 10 days of school and also the letter that he missed 20 days of school and it was referred to the county attorney. Prior to receiving each letter the principal called and apologized for the letter saying that it had to be sent and obviously she knew why my son had missed school. We were never contacted by the county attorney. These letters were a waste of my time, the school districts time, and the county attorneys time.

If there are specific school districts and\or schools within that district that are not doing a good job of enforcing their truancy policy and are unable or unwilling to know why students are gone, those individual districts\schools should be held accountable. Furthermore if they then don't have the ability make an intelligent decision as to whether that student has an acceptable reason for missing school than the administrators should be replaced with someone that can. An individual that is being paid to manage a school should be able to understand the difference between brain surgery and skipping school and if they can't than that should be dealt with on an individual basis, not by burdening the entire state with an unnecessary law.

Mike Bartenhagen

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Trust Nebraska Families and Restore Recognition of Excused Absences

The hundreds of members of the Nebraska Family Forum represent political opinions that span the spectrum. The specifically partisan views expressed by the writer of this piece do not represent the views of the whole group.

Dear Governor Heineman,

It was my pleasure and privilege to live in Nebraska for seven wonderful years. I was raised the daughter of an Air Force officer, so I had never lived in one location for more than four years. After my husband graduated from his MBA program, we happily chose to settle our family in Omaha; and if you add the two years I spent at Offutt as a toddler, I’ve spent more than a quarter of my life (a vast plurality!) in Nebraska. I love Nebraska!

But this past July, my husband was extended a job offer he’d always dreamed of, and we chose to move to pursue that dream. A few months before he was approached with the job offer, however, I became aware of - and concerned about - Nebraska’s new truancy law. Along with my friend, Stephanie, I initiated the movement to revise the new truancy law, and co-founded the Nebraska Family Forum.

I was homeschooling when this law came to my attention last year (and in the years when my children attended public school they never missed more than 8 or 9 days in a year at the most) so you might think I had no reason to worry about this law. But even though it wasn’t a present danger for my own family, I saw great reason for concern.

As an active Republican and Conservative - and a big fan of yours – I have been puzzled by your support for this law. I wondered if you were motivated by a desire to put pressure on school districts to deal seriously with truancy, supporting it out of concern for the kids who are failing because they skip school, or struggle to get to school; the kids who could have a better chance to succeed if supported by one of the many wonderful mentoring programs available in Nebraska communities. I thought perhaps you’d been motivated by the hope of earning federal dollars for improving attendance outcomes.

But based on your letters to concerned parents, I’m led to understand that you feel that kids ought to be in school every day, without exception; and that in order to ensure parents aren’t making what the government deems to be bad choices about the role of attendance in their children’s education, the government is justified in giving the legal system authority to investigate families for missing school, even when a school has already documented good reasons for every one of those absences.

I wonder if you realize that this law permits government intervention with a student’s family because he has a chronic personal illness,  or for competing at high levels in club athletics, or for spending time with a mom with terminal cancer, or for serving a two-week mission trip to Africa. I’m puzzled by your acceptance of this model, which attempts to achieve a set of equal outcomes (everyone passes and graduates) by forcing equal inputs (everyone is in his seat for T minus 19 or fewer days.)

Do you realize that many of the families this law is forcing into court – or into the prescribed attendance pattern to avoid court – already have good students? Do you realize that kids who have always kept up and done well in school, while achieving great things in extracurricular programs, are being pressured to quit these extracurriculars in an attempt to achieve perfect attendance? They are being threatened with investigation by law enforcement for participating in life-enhancing activities. Do you realize that mothers who used to keep their kids home with a head cold or a stomachache, are now sending those kids to school sick - against their better judgment, and fully knowing their kids are spreading illness, but feeling unable to choose otherwise?

Children who participate and excel in club sports are now at risk of government intervention. They’ve never struggled in school, and they’re at no risk of becoming delinquents; in some cases, it’s their athletic participation that motivates them to get good grades. But this law threatens their families with all sorts of government interference.

Children whose parents work in summer-heavy industries, and therefore vacation during the school year, are coming under the oversight of government authorities, because their parents can’t take a vacation during the summer break period due to work demands. These kids aren’t struggling in school, they’re at no risk of becoming delinquents; but this law allows them to be treated as such.

Children whose parents attend a work conference in an exciting city cannot travel with them, and get the incomparable education that comes from experiencing a place first-hand. These kids aren’t struggling in school and aren’t at risk of becoming delinquents; in fact, they are made to suffer from what I would contend is an impediment to their education, precisely because of this law.

Children whose parents return from military service in Iraq or Afghanistan, either on leave or at the conclusion of their tour of duty, must severely limit the number of days they take off school to spend time with their mother or father. These children are not struggling in school and aren’t at risk of becoming delinquents. But they are forced to attend school, rather than spend time with their mother or father who has been gone for years defending our freedom – and who may never come home again – if they want to avoid being referred to law enforcement. Can you see the tragic irony?

Children with illness are being prosecuted, threatened with being placed on probation, even threatened with removal from their homes. While last year’s LB 463 contained a provision that requires the school districts to have a policy on how to handle cases in which excessive absences are due to documented illness, it did nothing to actually protect these children.

We were informed by Dr. Lutz that in Millard, it is up to the superintendent how to handle those cases, and many sick children are still being referred to law enforcement. It’s apparent that Millard is not the only district where this is happening, as a girl from rural Nebraska who has hydrocephaly, and the complications that come with it, is being targeted by law enforcement. The parents of another girl with the same condition – this time in the metro area – are being threatened by CPS with removal of their child.

Can you understand at least a little about the fear and anxiety that mothers are feeling now when their children get simple illnesses, because every day they choose to keep them home is another day closer to law enforcement peering into their lives? Can you understand the growing feelings of mistrust toward the state government – inspired by this law – among good, hardworking Nebraska citizens?

When I hear of your continued support of the new law, I feel I’m watching a betrayal of conservative principles; although, I expect, an unwitting betrayal.

As a Conservative, I value the rights of individuals, and recognize that certain basic rights can only be sacrificed at great cost to society. Support for this truancy law demonstrates the opposite of those values. It demonstrates an embrace of what I would call collectivist thinking.

When collectivists look at the world, they see numbers, not people. They justify ignoring the basic rights of individuals to achieve a great collective goal – in this case, better numbers for school attendance statistics. To them, if a few people have to suffer, it’s worth the collective achievement.

But a believer in the overriding power and good of freedom understands that while you may be able to force a great collective outcome through the power of the state, it is not worth the injury to fundamental human rights; to the good, innocent people involved; nor to the fabric of society. This law epitomizes the subjugation of basic individual rights to the aims of the collective state. Nebraska certainly can improve its attendance statistics with this law – we’ve already seen that this is happening – but at what cost?

At what cost?
 
Governor Heineman, isn’t it possible to improve school attendance rates among kids who are skipping and struggling in school, without subjecting good people to government interference in their families?

The fear of such interference is painfully real, even among the best of parents. In our modern times, so many of us parent scared: scared of making mistakes – or doing something with our children that another person simply disagrees with – that will get us "turned in" to CPS. And this law in its current form creates yet another way to "fail" in the eyes of the state, and have our homes invaded.  The threat of government investigation is heightened in a state where kids are removed from their homes at the second highest rate in the nation, and have already been removed because of this very law.

Achieving excellent school attendance rates is good, but trusting the goodwill and common sense of the people is greater. And when you have to sacrifice the latter to achieve the former, the achievement surely comes at too great a cost.

To stay true to the promise of this country – the promise of freedom to pursue happiness; and to stay true to the purpose of good government – to maintain an orderly society through law, while protecting individual rights and liberties; this law must be amended to recognize the difference between excused and unexcused absences.

We’ve passed a law that allows people whose children have had nothing but excused absences to be referred to law enforcement! Surely, you can see the injustice in this situation?

And in the process, we’ve communicated to the average Nebraska parent that the state no longer trusts his judgment, if he chooses to use the public schools.

You know that the vast majority of parents are good parents. They only take their children out of school for carefully-considered reasons. In my case, I’ve only done it for illness, for my sister’s wedding, to allow my children to spend time with a newborn sibling, or to attend a Governor’s Proclamation Signing ceremony at the Capitol with a non-profit in which I was active. Two years ago, the law had no problem with these choices; but under the new law, I would take a risk in doing these things.

Such an atmosphere of fear is oppressive. I don’t know a single stay-at-home mom who hasn’t sent her child to school sick this year when she otherwise would have kept him home. One of those mothers sent her son to school sick with the stomach flu, and waited for him to throw up in class so the school could see he was sick and send him home. But even then, when the school required he be sent home, the absence counts toward government investigation!

I know of people who have cancelled important and educational family trips. Plenty of state and local authorities have made it clear that they think no child can learn if they’re on a family trip. But American families have been raising successful students while taking a family trip during the school year for decades.

Is it really right to interfere with these good families with good students now, all of a sudden? Now? Just because the zeitgeist is pushing in that direction? A direction in which “society” is deemed better at deciding what’s best for an individual child, rather than the parents of that child? Do you really want a state where good parents base their decisions on fear of what the government can do to them and to their children?

Governor, I’m pleading with you to push for common sense in the law, and not leave good Nebraskans at the mercy of lawyers, judges and superintendents. Some of them will exercise common sense, but some won’t.  In a well-ordered free society, people can rely on the law itself to protect their rights; they don’t have to rely on the subjective mercy of legal authorities, which is what you’ve asked Nebraskans to settle for with this law.

Senator Fulton’s bill, LB 1165, amends the truancy law to restore the classic definition of truancy, which is to be “absent without permission.” This would communicate to Nebraska parents that you trust their judgment and common sense at least as much as that of legal authorities. But at the same time, it would allow the education and legal systems to intervene much sooner in the cases of kids who are actually truant.

In short, it would allow the truly helpful aspects of this new law to take effect even sooner in the cases of kids skipping school; it would still improve attendance among those students whose failure in school is almost directly linked to their absences. And it would return legal protection to the students whose parents are always in contact with their schools in regard to their absences, whose children never miss an unexcused day of school in their lives, because their parents are conscientiously involved in what’s going on.

Sen. Fulton’s bill is not a cure-all for parents who want their authority honored by Nebraska law again. It requires parents to be involved in the crafting of attendance policy at their local district level to get what they want.

But it returns state law to a position in which students and their families are protected from government scrutiny when their absences are excused by school authorities. There is no such protection in the law as it currently stands – nor in Senator Ashford’s proposed amendment, LB 933 – as all students come under government scrutiny when they hit 20 days, no matter the reason. Furthermore, all students who’ve missed any school whatsoever are constantly under threat of legal interference, by virtue of the provision which allows a County Attorney to get involved at any point after a child misses one day of school.

In fact, there is a case in which a boy who has missed only two excused days this year (after having a rough year with a lot of absences last year) has been made a state ward. In another case, a girl who missed a lot of school last year – although less than 20 days – when her mother was struggling with brain cancer, has been referred to law enforcement for missing seven excused days this year.

These situations are not consistent with life in a free society. The paradigm shift in the attitude of the state toward parents is deeply troubling.

There are none among us who don’t fully agree that school attendance is important. It is! But we don’t agree with this law, because we don’t agree that government is the best decider of when non-attendance is in the best interest of a child, nor that government is properly used to investigate the families of students whose parents maintain contact with a school in regard to their children’s absences.

There is a scene in Robert Bolt’s classic play, “A Man For All Seasons”, in which Sir Thomas More vigorously explains to his would-be son-in-law, the vital importance of honoring established law in protecting the personal political safety of every individual. It proceeds thus:

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!

Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?

William Roper: Yes, I'd cut down every law in England to do that!

Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned 'round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man's laws, not God's! And if you cut them down, and you're just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I'd give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety's sake!

Governor, if we are willing to "cut a great road through the law" – both the natural law and U.S. Constitutional law, which recognize parents as holding a fundamental right to make decisions about the well-being of their children, free from government oversight and investigation – in order to get after “the devil” (bad parents, however that may be defined; and the definition keeps expanding) we will soon find that the social situation for children and families only gets worse.

Governor Heineman, please recognize the great affront which this law is to both natural law and Constitutional law, as well as to common sense. Please study Senator Fulton’s bill, and send a message to Nebraska parents that you trust them, and that you will protect them and their families while working to reduce real truancy, by supporting this bill.

Sincerely, 

Autumn F. Cook

Community Voices: Honesty

Honesty said on: December 28, 2011, 1:41 am

This law intimidates and discredits parents and children. In order to achieve a "uniform standard of measurement" it assumes all parents are being dishonest. Niether Doctor's notes nor Court orders will stop investigation. The law requires that the County Attorney approve of all absences or the child will face prosecution. That is wrong. It is not okay for parents to have to "get permission" from a County Attorney or the Superintendent to make a decision that is intuitive to the parent. It is my hope that school districts, state government and the courts will recognize and prize the value of honest parents making decisions in the best interest of their children. It is my hope that this law will be amended to recognize "excused" absences and the natural right of parents to direct the rearing of their children.

If parents want help from the state in enforcing attendance, the state could provide help in as few as 5 absences unexcused per the parent. But in exchange for the stringent number of "unexcused absences," the parent should be given total control to define what is excused and not excused. Schools and the state have to trust the HONESTY of the parents or we have no rule of Law.

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=3#ixzz1kV4CYFUu

Community Voices: Cindyl

cindyl said on: December 27, 2011, 10:47 am

My grand daughter missed 20 days of school last year. She had a doctor's note for each time. She has a hole in her heart and she is very prone to infections. She had surgery x 8 and another one next year. We had to go to court in fear they would take her away.

My daughter is a single mother and does not have a lot of money, but got a lawyer she did not want to lose her daughter. We went to court three times, the first two time the judge came out and put off case for the next month. We spent all of 4 minutes each time. The third time We got to court and were told that the case was dropped. What a waste of money! There were 3 lawyers there two of whick tax payers paid for, two CPS there and lawyer for the state and the judge. What alot of money spent for nothing.

It is not a bad law but I think the law should be changed to not include students with doctor's notes for illness. My daughters are not sending thier children to school sick because of this law and more and more children will pick up illness at school.

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=4#ixzz1kUzqCyhK

Community Voices: MommaGoat

MommaGoat said on: December 27, 2011, 10:52 am

I used to follow the illness guidelines to a T (since they make sense medically), until I started getting those three page letters. I still don't send the kids to school with a fever, but do send them back before they are 24 hours fever free. The first one I got was when my daughter had influenza B and then 6 days later got the H1N1 flu, she missed 10 days in one month. I just got another set for my son, one of the days he missed was the day before Thanksgiving and I sent a note but he gave it to his teachers, so he was "unexcused".

I called the registrar office and told them about the note, that we were traveling out of state, etc. The registrar said the note had to go to her. In the end she marked him truant for all classes because he didn't give the note to HER, even though I called. I am still trying to get that changed to parent approved absence.

My son is planning a military career and he doesn't want that truancy on his record. I don't know if it is just SWH, or if they are all control freaks - not even letting a parent excuse a kid for the day before Thanksgiving!

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=4#ixzz1kUym83OB

Community Voices: Scott J

Scott J said on: December 27, 2011, 12:09 pm

Some people want to draw a correlation between a kindergartner missing school and adults missing work. I appreciate that employer's hold adults to certain standards of attendance, adults have the ability to suck it up and go to work. Do you really think that the standard for a 40 year old equates fully to the standard for a 5 year old?

The biggest issue hear is that their is not any "excused" absence. The process gets started and agency's spend tax dollars for "excessive" absences even if there is a doctor's note for each day missed. I guess bureaucrats know better than doctors who is healthy enough to go to school.

I can keep my kid home to get healthy or have him sick and not learning for a longer period of time. Being a parent actually makes you responsible for both the Health and education of your child.

I highly doubt that my kinder-gardener will be spending the day playing video games and smoking if I keep her home sick. My child missed 5 days for legitimate medical conditions with doctor's notes. (H1N1 and broken arm) I received a letter regarding these excessive absences.

If this is a High School issue than apply the law to High School Kids. The law as it is written treats 5 year olds the same as 18 year olds. Common sense would dictate that if all your arguments in support of the law deal with Truant High School kids, then High School Kids should be the focus of your new policy not all kids.

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=4#ixzz1kUxokUGJ

Community Voices: Bojo

bojo said on: December 27, 2011, 11:14 am

I hate this law. I understand what it's purpose is, but there needs to be some kind of middle for some students. I myself have a daughter that has a very weak immune system and gets very sick very easily, when she's sick she sees the doctor every time and always comes home with new meds.

Her system does not accept a bunch of the meds on the market. Even though she goes to the doctor and gets a note excusing her from school she and I still have to deal with this truancy law. Im sorry, but if they are sick enough to go to the doctor and the doctor verifies they are sick and not faking that should NOT be counted against the child!

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=4#ixzz1kUwsCFwL

Community Voices: Nebraskaheat

nebraskaheat said on: December 26, 2011, 11:00 pm

I hate this law. I have 2 children in school right now. One missed one day all last year. The other missed 13. And 5 in one quarter which prompted a notification from the County attorney. Absolutely a joke. My son has a terribble immune system. Always had. I have to work night shifts and my wife day shifts because we had used up our sick days and vacation days picking him up from daycare because he had gotten sick. The same thing happened when he started school. But now the school system and the people

monitoring this think we're just not caring enough about getting him to school? Yeah, never mind he has a sibling that lives with him/us and goes to the same school and almost NEVER misses a day. Nope, it must be we just don't care about this certain child's education is all.

I love the hypocrites preaching responsibility. I have a daughter who just won the President's award for physical fitness, has never received anything less than an A since kindergarten, and is a volunteer in her Junior high's "antibullying" program.

Yet I'm also an irresponsible "grown child" myself who doesn't care enough about my child's education and that's why I'm complaining, because my son has asthma and every cold that your "normal" kid deals with in stride, turns into bronchitis and my son is on a nebulizer taking albuterol and needing treatments and rest for 2 or 3 days.

So irresponsible of me I know. To take a 3rd shift job to be there when my kid is sick, as opposed to just knocking on the State's door for them to cover my medical and provide food stamps. Instead I do the right thing, we work our tails off to make it, and I still have to deal with a County Attorney questioning my parenting and demanding written explanations as if I should have to answer to him.


Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=5#ixzz1kUsxkn4C

Community Voices: Heyyah

Heyyah said on: December 26, 2011, 11:11 pm

Where is the law charging parents who neglect their children by sending them to school sick because their parent does not want to take time off work to stay home with them, thus exposing their child's germs to other children who eventually get sick too, and whose parents, that stay home with their sick child, receive the three page truancy letter explaining how it is unfair to teachers, other parents, the student, the tax payers, etc. for your sick child to be absent from school for a week. When I went to school, there was probably 1 kid in the whole school that got perfect attendance.

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=5#ixzz1kUsJ79wo

Community Voices: Gabaway

Gabaway said on: December 26, 2011, 11:44 pm
There needs to be room for grey areas in this law. My daughter attends a local parochial school and up until this year we have never been made to feel bad about absences. This year we have a new teacher and she is extremely strict about it. I take my daughter's education very seriously (for crying out loud I choose to PAY to send her to school) and take great offense when I am called out on her missing a day. I am her parent and I will decide if she is too sick to attend. To imagine being sent to court or attacked by the County Attorney's Office is a horrid thought. I understand there are cases where this is warranted but it seems too many are getting caught up that do not deserve it and that is not right!

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments&page=5#ixzz1kUrvMKyQ

Community Voices: Charbonneau

Charbonneau said on: December 30, 2011, 7:34 am

I can speak on this law from personal experience. This law forced me to drop out of high school to avoid being put in a foster home. I missed more then 20days of high school my freshman year. The combination of nee surgery and a poor family(lack of transportation). Caused me to miss so many days. I became award of the state. Still I never had any CPS worker offer to take me to school. This law combined with the automatic failure policy schools have contributed to me dropping out. What's the point of attending class when your an automatic fail. In some cases I had an A but was auto fail.

It's time for the rights to be returned to the parent. This notion that the state government knows best is an infringement upon Liberty. We need to get these bureaucratic laws out of our schools and out of personal lives. Why should a parent be in fear of the government? What if these laws actually do the opposite of what they were intended to do? What happened to our rights? The right to say when our child will be attending school and when they won't. Nebraska you need to wake up. CPS has been child harvesting to get more federal money. It's only the poor who's children get taken away. Look into it. What does that tell you? The rich have lawyers to protect there rights. To me that is not equal justice. What does a higher income have to do with being a parent?

Read more: http://journalstar.com/news/local/some-parents-unhappy-with-nebraska-s-truancy-law-but-officials/article_c0b52ff0-873c-5ab8-9deb-46a9bde723cb.html?mode=comments#ixzz1kUmPSnIp

The Spivack Story

I have grave concerns over this truancy law, as well as many other issues we are having in our legislature these days. My biggest concern over this particular law is that parents, the guardians, protectors, and advocates of our children, are being scrutinized and punished.

If my children are in the "HAL" program, they have good grades and are able to pass into the next grade with flying colors, but have more than 20 absences, what exactly is the problem?

My elementary children are ADHD and have a very difficult time falling asleep even with medicinal help. Their doctor and I have been working diligently for 3 years for a solution to this problem. However, the fact remains that if they have difficulty falling asleep, they have a bigger problem trying to get up in the morning.

That being the case, with the new 15 minute earlier start time, makes it nearly impossible for my children to make it to school on time. Guess what, every time they are late, that time gets tacked onto the 20 days for absenteeism, in smaller increments. If this law becomes a problem for me personally, I will have to look at the possibility of home schooling my children!

We are also Jewish and this law is really a burden. We have holidays that my children go to synagogue to worship and pray. They are considered "non-work" days. Therefore, they do not go to school. Before this truancy law, these "holidays" were considered excused absences. However, they now are counted as part of the 20 days that can cause issues for us. There are several days in the fall and 2-3 in the spring. It is unfortunate that our "church and state" are separate in every way except in our schools at this time. If my children were to get extremely sick, these "holidays" can affect our family's core values and cost us much more.

I am of the opinion that EVERY government official works for me, not against me. That is, For the people, By the people...I pay your salary, I voted to put you into office. I can vote you out and I will. For those of us who care about our children in every aspect of their lives, medical, emotional, and educational, this law stinks! It needs to either be repealed or at the very least reworked!

Marcie Spivack
Millard Public Schools

Omaha, NE

Persuade Your School Board to Support the Fulton Bill

Crystal Young, an NFF team leader, went to her school board Monday evening in Gretna and educated them about the goals of the Nebraska Family Forum, and  about why Nebraska’s “truancy” law is broken and needs to be fixed. She said, “The board is pretty laid back and ignorant of most of the stories associated with this law.” She read to them a short synopsis of the stories that illustrate the personal impact this law has had on many families, and the NFF mission statement from 'NFF: Memorandum of Understanding.' She then provided them an overview of the three bills that have been introduced to address the problems.

She encouraged the Board to support Fulton's bill, LB 1165 - to return power to local districts, give parents the power to work with their district school boards to set acceptable attendance policies which protect families from government intrusion, and still define truancy and give districts power to expose educational neglect. She believes they understood her arguments for the Fulton bill.

My feeling is that we need to have one person take the 5 minutes at the beginning of every School Board meeting in every district in the state to encourage them to support the Fulton Bill. Most school boards are unaware of the full scope of the issues surrounding the law, and would appreciate being provided clear and easy-to-read documents that provide clarification.

The team leaders of the NFF are very busy working for a victory on the Fulton bill in the Judiciary Committee, and there is much to be done. We need the support of all parents across the state who are concerned about the effects of this law now and in the future. Please arrange your schedules so that you can attend your school board meeting, add your efforts to Crystal's, and increase our chances of fixing this law in the best possible way for every Nebraska family.

Here are the documents I recommend that you provide to your school boards:

Three legislative bills in 2012 seek to solve problems with the 2010 law:

http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2012/01/three-legislative-bills-in-2012-seek-to.html

Sen. Fulton Introduces Bill to Restore Local Control Over School Attendance

http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2012/01/sen-fulton-introduces-bill-to-restore.html

Memorandum of Understanding to Amend Nebraska’s Truancy Law

http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2012/01/nebraska-family-forum-memorandum-of.html

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Sen. Fulton Introduces Bill to Restore Local Control Over School Attendance

Sen. Tony Fulton of Lincoln introduced LB 1165, which will address the negative effects of the 2010 attendance law. If successful, the amendment will restore the distinction between excused and unexcused absences, ensuring that students with excused absences NEVER fall under the jurisdiciton of law enforcement for “truancy”.

This proposed change is not an attempt to go back to the days when school districts and county law enforcement were, in many cases, failing to intervene early enough to help “at-risk” youth. Instead, the amendment seeks to preserve the original intent of the law - to reduce habitual truancy that sometimes causes academic failure and delinquency - while protecting students whose absences are excused. The proposed amendment would significantly tighten the threshold that allows county-level agencies to intervene by defining as truant a student who is absent five days in one quarter, or ten days in one year, when such absences are “not excused to the satisfaction of district policy” by their parents. The statute is in harmony with the definition of truancy from the US Department of Justice, which is to be absent without permission.

This bill would return local authority over truancy to local school districts, and the families in their community. Together with elected school boards and school administrators, parents can craft common sense attendance policy that will define what types of absences will be excused. These locally-crafted policies can better serve the unique needs of each particular district.

Nebraska's original mandatory attendance law designated this power to local districts decades ago, but the 2010 law removed local district control over referral of students to law enforcement, and gave that authority to the state, which is now requiring all districts to file a report on a student who has missed 20 days, whether the district had excused those absences or not. In this way, school district policy became nearly pointless, as children whose absences were excused under school district policy still found themselves in court.

Parents have long relied on rational and reasonable school district attendance policy, and the common sense discretion of school administrators, and for the most part parents across the state would agree that there were no problems to speak of with their district's attendance policies prior to 2010. For the most part, parents have enjoyed a positive and cooperative relationship with their building principals, who retained the most discretion over whether or not to excuse an absence. For generations, school authorities have honored the authority of parents and their role in excusing their children from school based on their own best judgment.

Unfortunately, many parents have become increasingly concerned with the policy changes made by their school districts in the wake of the 2010 law. What used to seem very simple - excusing your child from school - has become an intimidating, anxiety-causing process, as the attitude of school administrators has hardened and they insist on documentation for nearly all absences, and count even worthy family travel as unexcused. Some districts have taken the law as a challenge to crack down hard on non-attendance in any form. In Millard Public Schools, for example, the district administrators and School Board have gone well beyond what the law requires by removing any discretion principals used to have in excusing students for educational, personal, or other legitimate reasons. In addition, they have specifically prohibited reasons for absence that used to be commonplace.

While the Nebraska Family Forum seeks to restore local control to the state truancy statute, on the tried and true principle that government closest to the people governs best, many parents have legitimate concerns that their elected school boards will not roll back these changes. The proposed amendment only works to restore respect for parental authority if parents hold school administrators accountable, and require that they respect parental authority.

One thing is certain: school boards are elected, they work for the people who elect them, and district policies cannot go into effect until school boards vote for them. School board politics are democracy at work. Under LB 1165, a parent can work to ensure his judgment is honored in the process which sets local attendance policy. This process is designed to work on consensus between elected school boards, administrators, and parents.

If local control is not restored, then a parent’s only hope is that the unelected school district bureaucrats and the county attorney will exercise common sense. Local school boards are the appropriate body in which to address the definition of legitimate absences, set attendance policy, and establish the boundaries between a parent’s authority and a school district’s responsibility.

Should parents be concerned about the level of power that the mandatory attendance law places in the hands of school districts? It’s a good question. If parents aren’t actively involved in the politics of their school district, then they certainly should be. For the few parents who have tried to affect the policy-making in their school districts - to no effect - they may be familiar with the sentiments of a former Millard mom, Autumn Cook, who addressed some comments to school board member Mike Kennedy on the Millard Parent Society Facebook page. She said, “I have the impression that School Board members exert very little influence over the superintendent. It seems that the School Board just rubber stamps whatever comes out of his administration, with only surface questions asked and no real opposition to any ideas whatsoever. If the staff says it’s good, it must be; they're the experts.”

This sentiment is widespread among parents in our state, who are becoming more familiar with the process. It was particularly disturbing to Millard parents who fought hard to get changes to the expansion of the truancy law in 2011, before it was passed. Cook passionately censured her school board - which continued to tell parents to talk to the Legislature, because the new policies were its fault - with these words, “We spent a LOT of time talking to our representatives about this over-reaching law. We traveled to the Capitol in a snowstorm to express our concerns about the expansion of the law in 2011. We held sustained dialogue with our own senators about the issue. We brought our kids down to the Capitol to share stories of what the original law did, and spent the better part of an hour working out an arrangement with the sponsor of the bill that would protect us from outrageous invasion of our families. But that rested on one thing - you! We counted on our local attendance policies being applied, not on having them wiped out and overhauled to put teeth into this threat. We counted on our school boards to have minds of their own, to be able to see the terrifying, unintended consequences of this monstrosity and say, ‘We'll trust the good parents who have raised the good students who have given us our distinguished reputation and leave our attendance policy as is, thank you very much!’”

To be fair, it is hard to expect school boards to be accountable to parents when so few parents voice their opinions to their school boards, whether those opinions are positive or negative. Parents must be informed, active, and vocal in holding their school boards accountable for the policies under which they live. We elect them to protect our interests, but if their constituents do not in large numbers communicate their expectations, we shouldn’t be surprised when they don’t meet them.

Sen. Fulton’s amendment is an opportunity to put government back in its proper order. It is a strong, clear state truancy statute that designates appropriate control over attendance policy to school districts, and the communities who fund and govern them. It allows authorities to reach at-risk students much earlier than they could under the old statute, by requiring students with unexcused absences to be referred to law enforcement much sooner. It ensures that children with excused absences - including kids who are sick, spending quality time with a deployed parent, visiting a sick relative, traveling with family, and pursuing athletic and educational excellence - will not be punished under the law.