Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The Myles Family: Truancy Diversion for Sick Kids?

Martha Myles daughter is one of those children swept up in the wide net cast by the passage of Nebraska's invasive school attendance law that is often misrepresented as a "truancy law" but has little to do with actual truancy. Last year her daughter, who is often ill, was forced into truancy diversion despite the fact that her absences were excused and documented. Their personal lives were probed and Martha and her daughter felt violated by the whole process. Her mother told me that she was appalled when the person handling her case asked her to take her daughter to a psychologist. First, because it was outrageous that they would have the authority to order her to do it, and second, because she had already done it on her own. She told the case manager this and was told she needed to take her to the psychologist they were recommending. When this happened she was done cooperating.

Here is a recent letter from Martha about her continued concern over Nebraska's law and its impact on her family:

My daughter has missed 10 days now this year due to doctor appointments or illness. She missed 4 of the days last week due to flu like symptoms and fever. I told her she needed to be prepared to go to school today no matter what. Her temperature was in fact still over 100 this morning, and she begged to stay home. However, as a result and only due to this legislation and law of absenteeism, did I force her to go to school sick. In fact it is THIS VERY LAW that has parents NOT doing what is in their children's best interests. We now are forced to send our kids to school sick and this just exacerbates this situation by children repeatedly getting sick or sicker and causing prolonged absences or causing other kids to now miss school. It is out of FEAR of being taken to court - the humiliation, stress, anxiety, and possible financial costs it might involve to have legal representation.

Where is any of this common sense? Where is any of this in our children's best interest? How does any of this help our children learn?

If it truly was about truancy - WHY was the language changed to remove this word and change it to "excessive absenteeism"? WHY when it has been shown that you are now targeting innocent families and children with illness and excused reasons for missing school - that our legislature has NOT done anything to correct this problem?

What does this message tell our children? I would most certainly have let my daughter stay home when she is sick if this law was not in effect.

I just have a couple of statements for your 3 statements below:

1) School is important and is one of many tools for learning. School is NOT the single most important however.

2) Parents are now more challenged that ever due to this Bill - it most definitely has increased our burden.

3) It is interesting that now they use the word "truancy" again. However, absenteeism due to sickness, and other parentally excused absences do NOT lead to these negative behaviors. However, this very law has driven some families to allow their older children to drop out rather than be bullied by the Courts. This law itself has contributed to demoralizing and removing any motivation for students to attend and finish school, especially once they get caught up in this ridiculous process.

Martha Myles
Millard Public Schools
Omaha, NE

The saga continues for this mother, who will live under this law continually until her daughters condition is either cured or she graduates from school. She has now passed over the magic number 20 in the 2011/2012 school year, and once again has been informed of the mandatory filing against her daughter. Below is an update on what they are experiencing because of Nebraska's truancy law.

Just to update you – I had a meeting last Friday with the school social worker as my daughter has gone over the 20 day mark. The social worker I met with and her “intern” were both pleasant, professional, seemed sincere and wanted to be of assistance. However, they still have to do their jobs. And having said that, they still followed protocol by asking me things such as, “If I would allow them (the school) to talk directly with the Doctor”, and of course I said absolutely Not! 

My daughter’s medical information is between the doctor(s), her and me. It would be a violation of the Federal HIPAA laws if I allowed this and I wouldn’t be authorizing such a release. They offered a case worker to come to the home to complete an assessment – but we all know what those are about! Again I stated I did not want such an assessment done. 

Again suggestions of mental health counseling were made (as they were last year). They asked it they could help in any way. I asked them – “My daughter is home sick – what exactly can you do? Make her well? What do you want done differently? Send her to school sick? I have done that too! We are trying various avenues to learn what is causing her frequent illnesses and we all want her well and back in school as soon as possible.”

The current status of the legislation was also brought up and I pointed out about the young wrestler from Millard South who was critically hurt in the traffic accident a week ago could be labeled “truant”. But anyone who heard the news knows he is in the hospital and what happened to him. However, when his 20 days are up – he could be referred to the County Attorney as well. This is just wrong – he is no more “truant” than I am!

Of course, she has to refer my daughter – it is the current law. She stated that they provide documentation they have been given, such as medical and doctor notes, relate what type of student and grades are being earned, if there is past history of absences, and that they have spoken with the parents (me) and relate what has been going on and what we are doing to work through this.

Bottom line – a referral is still a referral. Excused absences should NOT be included in the 20 days and be sent to the County Attorney. It will be interesting to see if Douglas County handles it differently this year than last.

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