Wednesday, February 29, 2012

A Compromise in the Legislature

A compromise on the truancy bill was advanced today on the floor of the Unicameral. The compromise will remove the mandatory filing to the county attorneys of kids with excused absences! It is a significant step forward in reaching our objectives, which have been from the beginning the restoration of local control over attendance policy, and protection of kids with excused absences, while narrowing the focus on kids with unexcused absences.

This compromise is just that - a compromise. It does not implement the many solid ideas presented by Sen. Fulton in LB1165 (which was not advanced out of committee), but it has broad appeal and a good chance of moving forward in the legislature.

When County Attorney Don Kleine spoke to the NFF at Creighton Law School on February 15, he talked about the 900 cases referred to his office that required no action and said that there is no need to refer cases to the county attorney when all of the absences are excused under school district policy.

Monday we went to the Capitol with this simple message: Children with excused absences should not fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement and that senators should partner with Sen. Fulton to fix Nebraska's truancy law in 2012. It is essential that schools not be forced to refer these students to county attorneys when those students are working with their school districts and their absences are excused.

The hard work of passionate parents and citizens who have called and written senators numerous times for weeks on end, parents whose children were adversely affected and who braved the harsh judgments of total strangers to come forward to tell their stories to the press, and the many dedicated leaders who would not give up should be proud of how their efforts have changed the discussion in Lincoln and moved the ball forward.

I believe that many of the senators we spoke to Monday listened. Sen. Fulton was contacted by senators who wanted to get this law fixed and discussions of possible compromises began. This morning Sen. Fulton and Sen. Ashford met and came to a compromise that was introduced on the floor by Sen. Langemeier as AM2245. Many senators argued in favor of the changes and said that the 2010 truancy law had been an affront to parental authority and the sacred freedoms of families.

The amendment essentially states that school districts are free to choose which cases they referred to county attorneys when the absences fit into the description in Ashford’s box ‘A’: “absences are due to documented illness that makes attendance impossible or impracticable or are otherwise excused by school authorities.” They are not prevented from referring these cases, but they are not required to either.

At the very least this amendment would put the onus for what is excused and unexcused back on school district administrators and school boards, who are more susceptible to public pressure and democratic redress. If the districts exercise this power aggressively and it results in abuse of the law, the local districts can be held responsible by the communities who govern and fund them.

The downsides are still troubling. For example, if a student has only one unexcused day but reaches the 20 day threshold, schools would still be required to refer. However, they could choose to check box 'B', which indicates that the school is working with the student. This is particularly a problem in school districts who have changed their school district attendance policies in the wake of the 2010 law.

Some districts removed important grounds for legitimate excused absences expecting that the law would provide them with political cover in the face of parental pressure. In these districts even a handful of days for family travel or athletics outside the school curriculum would result in a filing at the county attorney if the overall tally reached the magic 20 day mark.

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.

In general, 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. Lincoln Public Schools has been by far the most aggressive, as they have removed nearly every grounds for excused absence barring school activities and illness.

If the amended truancy law passes and these district policies are not altered to reflect the "good-old Nebraska common sense" the Governor promised would be used by school and state authorities, there will be dire consequences for families in these districts. 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. This process is designed to work on consensus between elected school boards, administrators, and parents; and parents are going to have to organize to make sure that reasonable distinctions for excused and unexcused absences are established in their district policies before the start of school next year.

Inscribed over the main entrance of the Capitol are the words, “The Salvation of the State is Watchfulness of the Citizen.” 75 years ago, George Norris, a "New Deal Republican”, fathered a new government in Nebraska we know today as the Unicameral. He said the two-house system was outdated, inefficient and unnecessary. When skeptics raised concerns that the unicameral would not preserve appropriate checks and balances to prevent abuse of power, Norris argued that the people would serve as a check upon the possible abuse of power by their elected officials with the right to vote and petition. Norris said, “Every act of the legislature and every act of each individual must be transacted in the spotlight of publicity."

This should be a sobering challenge to every Nebraskan citizen. The Unicameral is a great departure from the collective wisdom of the founding fathers and puts the full power of governing into the hands of only 49 legislators with few checks and balances to restrain it. Only with the constant vigilance of the citizens of our state can freedom be guarded. This year we have been educated in this principle and I hope it is not a lesson that will be soon forgotten, because we have many more battles to fight to restore the proper balance between the honor of parental authority and school district authority over attendance.

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.

There is work ahead if families are to regain the rights lost by the passage of the 2010 attendance law. The NFF will continue to inform parents in our state and remind them that "Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty."

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Open Letter: Sherry Buhrmann

What happens when the GOALS Initiative of Douglas and Sarpy Counties, superintendents, county attorneys, sheriffs, police departments, and boards of commissioners sign their names to a MOU that affirms a belief that school attendance is the "SINGLE most important element to the student's ABILITY to learn and be successful in school and LIFE"?.... This is what happens:

The economics of the government of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA sees You, the individual, who one time was a child of God with inalienable rights now as a commodity, as a “Unit”. You provide the government with taxes, use taxes, or are a combination of a user and a taker. You exist as a possession of the government. The State then determines who and what money is returned to the “Units.”

How does it feel to be owned?

How does it feel to be told what to do and when to do it?

How does it feel to be the taxpayer for the STATE?

How does it feel to be told you are not smart enough to think for yourself as you are the property and responsibility of the STATE?

I am angry! I have a desire to rebel and say, I am not going to pay your taxes, follow your rules and I will take care of myself and my family. But, that is not what civilized mature people do…. So, I am stuck with my anger.

I recognize the best solution is to hope that the elected officials will wake up and reduce government, stop trying to fix people, control people and return to the constitution and LIBERTY. Yet, there is little reason for me to believe this will happen as we all slide down the slippery slope of servitude.

If you think I’m nuts consider:

They determined that constitution guarantees you free education. That has evolved to the current Nebraska law stating that kids MUST attend school, or you will be in court if they miss over 20 days. Did you know? The Omaha Public School sends names of children and families to the County Attorney’s office once your child misses 10 days of school. This is their “Watch List!”

Even now the Douglas/Sarpy County Learning Community fueled by tax dollars from both Douglas and Sarpy County have decided that a school Social Worker will make home visits to identify "at-risk" factors in children's family homes. They will discuss any need of the child related to education. So, all areas of parenting are open to discussion, bed time, meal time, meal preparation, discipline, hygiene, medical needs, study habits, etc. The social worker will be the families touch stone to creating an educable child. Parents cannot be trusted to raise kids to be taxpayers.

I’m not fooled. Yes, they will profile children and families to be recipients of home visits. I believe that a large number of visits will go to homes of racial and cultural minorities. The fiscal costs of this will exceed the estimate and the costs will go up for the State. Your taxes will go up.

Once upon a time people had children for the joys of life, now government views individuals as a return on their investment. Voters are on the wrong road when they ask the State to be your caretaker. Government is “Big Brother”, an entity for the powerful to get more power by making you dependent. Please someone figure out how to stop government without riots, terror, threats, etc. Please!, before I lose self-control.

Sherry Buhrmann
Gretna, NE

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Open Letter: McEntarffer Family

I just saw the story run on 1011 regarding, I believe, Beth Meyers?

We too received a letter this week regarding our 5-year-old's absences from school this year. Two of them from related illness with doctor visits, three from a death in the family and protocol that transpired. The letter cost the city the postage, the time it took for whomever to write it, and last I checked court costs were $44.

This seems like an incredible waste, and lack of foresight on behalf of the legislative and governing bodies. To run parents through some meat grinder of a system where come time for court they simply dismiss the cases when they finally use some discretion and make the right call. (as was in Ms Beth Meyers' case)

How many cases have to be dismissed at the taxpayer's expense before they will realize that this needs to be either recalled or improved immensely?

What are we to do when we get to the point that we are AFRAID to keep our child home during illness, etc., due to fear from possible court proceedings driven from the county attorney's office?

Do we send our kids to school with the flu, fever, etc., because for me, that doesn't seem to be in the best interest of the children.

I don't even want to get started on some county attorney's assertions relating to the parent's discretion on what may be an excusable absence...

Ben and Michaela McEntarffer
Lincoln, NE

Truancy or Child Neglect, Which Laws Are We Talking About?

ABC Channel 8 in Lincoln reported on the truancy law and interviewed Beth Meyer, who fought for 9 months in court in her daughter's “truancy” case, despite the fact that all her daughter's absences were medically excused. Her daughter has suffered significantly under the law. She has gone from an A/B student to failing. Her self-confidence has been destroyed! A child with excused absences is now considered a TRUANT under Nebraska Law! Is that acceptable to our state? It certainly is to our governor, lawmakers, educators, and law enforcement.

The Nebraska Family Forum and concerned parents are asking for the legislature to amend the law so that kids with excused absences NEVER fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. Sen. Brad Ashford, whose legislation rewrote Nebraska truancy law in 2010, "says that’s not possible because the state needs to have safe guards in place for kids who are abused or neglected.”

Now we get to the real motivation behind Nebraska's approach to truancy. How else can you justify classifying kids who play by the rules as truants? This has been the only reason the state could justify this law. There is no need to refer students with excused absences to law enforcement, unless the state intends to investigate every case in order to determine if there is some “abuse or neglect” in the home.

For this reason, the NFF has called this law a gateway law, a gateway to move families into the Nebraska CPS system, and further burden a very troubled system. Nebraska takes kids from their homes at the second highest rate in the U.S., and kids have been made wards of the state using the state's new truancy law as the vehicle. Yet, Nebraska lawmakers continue to brush off the fears of parents as irrational and ask Nebraska parents to "trust the good-old Nebraska common sense of state officials".

It has been the position of the NFF that the number of children who are seriously abused or neglected by the willful thwarting of their education by their parents is very small. It is so small that it is an intolerable overreach of government to cast a net over all Nebraskan families - under the guise of preventing “truancy” - and then use that law as a vehicle to discover the remote cases of abuse and neglect within families. The innocent children and families who have suffered as a result are unacceptable casualties in this effort.

The issue of child neglect and abuse, and the issue of truancy as defined by the US Department of Justice (as well as Sen. Ashford’s own web page) are very different issues and should be handled in different legal ways. If a parent is willfully thwarting their child’s education in such a way that it could be defined as “child abuse or neglect”, then there are laws in place to deal with these parents. In such cases, schools already have the authority and the statutory responsibility to report parents for child abuse and neglect. It certainly is not necessary to use a “truancy law”, which deals with a totally different legal class, to root out child abuse.

Nebraska can and should establish a traditional truancy law (as the vast majority of states in the US) and define truancy as “unexcused” absences. Sen. Ashford's website says, "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)". The NFF agrees whole-heartedly ! So let's focus on helping those kids who are absent without excuse.

If a child’s absences are excused under their own school district policy they should NEVER be referred to law enforcement for “truancy”. The media needs to get it right: “truancy” and being absent should not be the same thing in a court of law! They cannot continue to report that “truancy” is down in Nebraska since the passage of the 2010 law, while calling all children who miss twenty days of school "TRUANT" regardless of the cause. These reports feed the misconceptions about this extremely flawed law!

The NFF supports a simple and common sense amendment to the law, to prevent kids with excused absences from falling under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. This is not ground-breaking radical reform. This is good-old Nebraska common sense! We ask the Legislature and the Governor to demonstrate wisdom and common sense by protecting kids with excused absences from legal investigation. We hope they will put a stop to this radical and unbending commitment to redefine “truancy” in our state, reject the attitude of mistrusting all parents, and restore the attitude of trust toward the common sense ability of parents to work with their schools.

View ABC story here:

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Living under the eye of the law

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.  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.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Children cannot possibly learn when they are missing 20 or more days

Parents have been contacting their senators to ask that kids with excused absences NEVER fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. The communication between parents and state officials is uncovering a major disconnect between what some parents believe is acceptable in the course of childhood, and what Nebraska lawmakers have determined is harmful to children.

I've written earlier of comments made by Nebraska Education Commissioner Rodger Breed and other state educators who believe that there is NEVER good reason to miss school other than the occasional serious documented illness. Governor Heineman has repeatedly said that if "kids aren't in school they can't learn", and there is an assumption being made by the legislative body that kids who miss 20 days of school or more can't possibly learn!

This idea, of course, is foreign to many parents of excellent students who occasionally travel during the school year with their children, have chronically sick kids who miss school often, or have children who are very involved in extra-curricular pursuits outside the school curriculum. Many students maintain excellent grades because of the things that pull them away from school from time to time and the excellent parents who make sure that excellence in school is the objective.

My own honor roll student received his best marks in school the year he missed the most school. That year he missed 24.5 days of school due to a combination of ordinary sick days, family travel, and taking advantage of a unique opportunity to participate in an outdoor summer theater which started rehearsals late in May. The debate that choices like mine has caused to rage in Nebraska has been anything but civil. In the comment page of the Lincoln Journal Star, one reader made the comment that parents who travel with their kids when school is in session are "immoral"!

It seems that many state officials share this belief. In response to a correspondence from a Nebraska father, who wrote senators expressing his concern that the current "truancy" law reaches too far into the lives of Nebraska families, Sen. Gwen Howard responded by expressing her sympathies for sick children but said, "I am not as sympathetic for students who hit the 20 day limit because of family vacations or other trips. Children cannot possibly learn when they are missing 20 or more days without any consequences."

Nebraska State officials are using statistics that show a 30 point gap in standardized tests between perfect attenders and those who miss 20 or more days to support this belief and forward their agenda to put all students in this group under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. It comes as no surprise to me that this statistic is manipulated to deny the fact that among the group who miss 20 days or more, there are kids who score as well as kids with perfect attendance. By the nature of statistical data there are A, B, and C students in the mix, and the obvious question must be asked, since when is it a crime to be a C student? Are there not C students among those with near perfect attendance as well?

My own independent research of the link between school attendance and school attainment shows that the affects of attendance on educational outcomes overall is murky. A comprehensive study done in Glasgow, Scotland, found that the connection between absence and academic performance only became striking when the students missed excessively (over 28.5 days). "In a school year of 190 days, each 1.9 days of absence above the average of 28.5 days decreased the total of the English and mathematics grades gained by pupils by only 0.1 of a grade". Not earth-shattering!

The faultiness of connecting educational outcomes so directly to school attendance was demonstrated in this same study when they found that that “25% of pupils who gained a grade 1 (A) in mathematics had a record of absence for more than 5.2% in one year, whereas 25% of those getting a grade 7 (Failing) were absent for less time than this, 4.8%. Even more striking was that generally, a quarter of all pupils getting low grades (5, 6 and 7) in mathematics did not miss a single day’s schooling and were model pupils in this respect.”

Certainly there is data in numerous studies that shows a link between attendance and grades, but it is important that we not make the mistake of concluding that correlation is causation. Researchers across the nation have been careful to point out that low academic achievement could just as well cause, truancy as be one of its effects.

Studies aside, it is evident is that the Nebraska school attendance law is an effort to reshape a parenting paradigm that has long accepted that parents have a natural right to make such judgments on behalf of their children. The law bypasses local school district policy, which in many cases excuses absences related to "family travel" and honors a parent's natural right to make these judgments. It requires schools to ignore their own school district policies and refer all students to law enforcement at 20 days of absence, regardless of the individual circumstances of the student and family.

The Nebraska Family Forum has asked for a simple, common sense fix to the law. Allow local school districts to craft attendance policy with the aid of elected school boards and the input of the communities who fund and govern them; and honor that policy by ensuring that kids whose absences are excused by school authorities NEVER fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement for truancy.

I would ask those who support Nebraska's current "truancy" law, which is more "immoral"? To usurp the natural rights and responsibilities of ALL Nebraska parents in order to have oversight in every case that may lead to delinquent behavior, OR to allow parents to choose whether or not it is appropriate for their child to participate in club sports, take a ski trip, or stay home an extra day to recover from the flu?

Sen. Ashford's Truancy Fix Falls Short of Parents Expectations

Press Release

It is not the intent of Nebraska truancy law to cause heart ache for families whose children are sick or otherwise excused.

Parents ask, why then do children with excused absences need to be referred to law enforcement and fall under the jurisdiction of county attorneys?

Omaha, NE, February 21, 2012: Nebraska lawmakers and state officials have repeatedly said that it is not the intent of Nebraska’s truancy law to cause heartache for families whose children are sick or otherwise excused by school authorities. If state leaders are sincere in this assertion, I hope they will consider stories like this one from Millard mother, Martha Myles - a story that must be told!

Martha’s daughter entered Douglas County “truancy diversion” last year, despite the fact that her absences were due to serious illness. Martha felt pressured into the "voluntary" “truancy diversion” as her only option to avoid court proceedings. Their personal lives were probed and Martha and her daughter felt violated by the whole process. Martha has been working with doctors for years to diagnose what causes her daughter’s severe migraines and other related illnesses. She and her daughter have endured the added stress of being under the constant scrutiny and monitoring of law enforcement for the “excessive absenteeism” of her daughter.

At last week’s Truancy Q&A with Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine, hosted by the Nebraska Family Forum, was told by Mr. Kleine that her experiences were due to inadequate staff and resources to deal with an overload of truancy cases last year. Whatever the reason for her daughter falling into the net meant to catch “truant” kids, she has been informed this week that her daughter will again be referred to the county attorney. (Read Martha’s Story here:

At the Truancy Q&A hosted by the Nebraska Family Forum, Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine agreed with the idea that kids whose absences are excused should not have their names referred to his office for further investigation. Don Kleine is one of the many public officials who have promised that they have not taken – and will not take - action against students whose absences are excused to the satisfaction of school district policy. If it is true that state officials have no intention of proceeding in any case where the student’s absences are excused, then there is no need require a referral at 20 days in these cases, and the law should be amended to reflect that reality.

For this reason, parents associated with the Nebraska Family Forum continue to support an amendment that would ensure that students with excused absences NEVER fall under the jurisdiction of law enforcement. However, LB933 - the truancy fix being worked on by Sen. Ashford and the Judiciary Committee - still requires these cases be reviewed by county attorneys. Hopefully, Sen. Ashford and his committee will see the need to improve LB933, to prevent students like Martha Myles daughter from ever being referred to the county attorney. It is the position of the Nebraska Family Forum, which has worked closely with families affected by the law, that students whose absences are excused under school district policy should NEVER be referred to law enforcement.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Open Letter: Mike Horton

written by: Mike Horton of Elkhorn, NE

The more I hear from everyone, the more I wonder if the problem goes beyond the unfortunate intrusiveness of the law and legislators' beliefs that they know best, and has exposed another even more subtle, yet insidious agenda on the part of public education. If one talks to teachers, and I have, they seem far less enthusiastic in their support for this law. 

Every administrator I have talked to or heard comment on it, thinks this is the best thing since dry erase boards. One must ask the question "Why?" All we hear, and what was reinforced continually when I was a public school teacher, what is best for the students should be the goal. How does removing the distinction between an excused and unexcused absence do that? 

I would think that the school districts would hate being restricted in this way. So logically, there must be a reason that they support this. Despite what they say about kids needing to be in school and how important that is for test scores, etc., this somehow feels disingenuous. I come back to the question as to what would happen if my daughter decided to quit doing any work, and actively decided to fail all her classes. Would the school report me to the authorities? If so, on what bases? As far as I know we do not have any legislative mandate on minimum performance, but is that the next step? 

I contend that nothing would happen other than the school would fall back to whatever prescribed protocol they have for students who fail. In discussing this with teachers across the greater Omaha area whom I am acquainted with, I have heard agreement with my belief that the education community's complete lack of support on this issue is the result of financial motivations. 

If this is not the case, I challenge Dr. Breed or any other school district's superintendent to justify to me how having a law designed to assist children with issues that have a negative impact on attendance and or academic performance is served one iota by punishing a single child who doesn't fall into the aforementioned group. How does distinguishing excused from unexcused prevent the authorities from assisting the population intended? 

If they want to trot out "Parents are lying to the schools" argument, I then challenge them to prove that. Anyone actually think they can do that? And let's say for the sake of the argument that they can. Would not discovered instances of this be then classified as non-excused? The authorities could then take whatever appropriate action is reasonable and prudent. If this is truly about "Truancy" then let's adopt a strict law. 

Personally, as a former teacher, if a child has more than 5-10 UNEXCUSED absences in a school year, is not performing adequately academically, and or there is a lack of cooperation and communication from the parents, then intervention is probably warranted. If those conditions are not present, however, then what is the schools' concern? In closing, this situation seem to be similar to organized public education's lack of support for teacher accountability and or school choice. 

I can not speak for other school districts, but I can attest that in Elkhorn, if you try to deviate from their prescribed methodology, you are fought every step of the way and in some cases may find yourself in a more adversarial relationship with your children's educators instead of a cooperative one.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Should kids with excused absences be referred to the county attorney?

KETV Reports:

"Kleine said that Douglas County school districts referred 3,000 students to his office for missing more than 20 days last year. Of those, Kleine said 900 cases were dropped." The NFF asks why do those 900 cases need to be jamming up the legal system at all?

Kleine, Ashford, and many other state officials have emphatically said that when a child's absences are excused they have no intention of intervening. The NFF asks, if that is the case then why is it necessary to refer students with excused absences to the county attorney at all?

Read more:

"Never, Never, Never Give UP" ~ Winston Chruchill

Many of you may be very discouraged by the advancement of Ashford's truancy bill because it still requires that students who miss 20 days for any reason still be referred to the county attorney.

I want to tell you a story. I tell you this story to help you understand that this is not the end of this process and that the very fact that some truancy bill came out of committee means that the conversation continues and that is a good thing.

The Story:

In 2011, LB 463 would have allowed schools to refer any student who missed 10 days to the GOALS team, even if those days were excused, and we worked very hard to have that changed so that those being referred to the GOALS team were only students with UNexcused absences. We testified at the committee hearing, but the bill moved on without that important change. We did not stop, and two days before its second floor vote Ashford added the change that ensured that only kids with unexcused absences would be referred to the GOALS team.

I tell you this story because LB 463 changed a great deal from the beginning to the end. Its final passage is what counts. Were we able to stop it all together? NO. But we made important changes that helped protect kids from even more government over-reach.

We are not done! This is not over, now the subject of "truancy" and changing the law continues for months while it is debated and amendments are offered and so on. There are still opportunities to get the fixes we're working for. So don't lose hope! Just keep working!

"Never, Never, Never Give Up" ~ Winston Chruchill

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Open Letter: Chad Lehmer

First and foremost, I am a sinner who has been saved by grace, I am a Christian.

1st Timothy 1:15. "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief."

I start with the above statement and verse, because my beliefs are predicated on my deep and abiding love of Jesus Christ, albeit a sinner. In my family this means that God has given us our children to raise according to his will, not ours (however He has given us the tools to do so) and definitely not the will of the state.

I don’t pretend to know or have all the answers, I do have opinions and it is my opinion “the state” does NOT have the answer.

I have fundamental constitutional rights to decide what is best for and how to raise my children according to my beliefs!

I’ve read many stories on the NFPF website/blog page and they both sadden and enrage me. I’ve started and stopped writing this letter many times; I feel that many have stories that need to be told more than mine. However it is also important, I believe, for everyone to know where I am coming from.

During the 2009/2010 (do you remember that year, I’ll give you a hint, swine flu) school year I became immediately aware of the “truancy” law, one of my five children had missed fifteen days of school, due to “un-documented” illnesses, that’s right, UN-DOCUMENTED, I did not take my child to the doctor just because he was ill. I do not take my children to the doctor for every little thing, I’m confident I can pull a splinter out of my child’s finger, I’m confident that I can deal with various cuts and bruises and I AM confident I can decide when an illness requires medical attention.

I’ve deviated, my apologies, I received a letter from the truancy office, whose name escapes me at the moment; I really need to find that letter; the letter told I needed to appear before the truancy office to explain my child’s absences. My thought was “Why, I’ve called my child in sick for all the days my child was sick”. The letter gave me a date and time to show up, if I recall correctly, I believe it said something about referral to the CA should my child miss five more days of school. This upset me greatly. 

There was no way I was going to take a vacation day from work just to show up to a meeting that I was not comfortable with, not to mention the fact that the time of day would require me to pull my other two children out of school, making them absent, to go to the meeting. To finish up my truancy story (if I tried to write it all out I would probably end up with a novel), I called the truancy officer, ready to unload on him, I must admit he was quite calm about the matter, which calmed me down greatly (this was to my benefit), I told him that I would not be able to make to the meeting and asked if this call would suffice.

After some going back and forth and telling him that my other kids would be absent if I had to go, he agreed that the call would suffice, but not until after he threatened me with being reported to the CA, if my child missed five more days of school, I scoffed at that statement and told him to bring it on, I will gladly argue my case in front the CA or any judge for that matter. At any rate the matter was settled I did not have to meet with the truancy officer (with my child). That is pretty much were my story ends, my child did not miss an additional five days of school and we were not forced into arguing with the CA or any of that, thank the Lord! 

I am dedicating this paragraph to a single comment made by the truancy officer. The gist of the comment was, not quoted verbatim: “It is the schools job to teach the kids about responsibility and work ethic, they need to be taught that in the real world, when they have a job, they will not be able to just take a day off whenever they want, even if they are sick”. UM, NO! THE SCHOOLS JOB IS TO TEACH! (I.e. Math, English, spelling, etc.). That comment absolutely got my blood boiling and I laid into the truancy officer on that one. I don’t know about you, but when I look for a job (assuming you don’t need one immediately, then you take what you can get), I don’t look for the one that is going to give me the least amount of perks, one day of vacation, one day of sick time, no paid holidays, etc. I told the truancy officer a little about my current job and what kind of perks I get. He tried to back me into a corner, by saying something to the effect of, “Well you can’t just use those anytime you want to, you have to have some sort of advanced notice.” Again, WRONG, I can pretty much use my company given time anytime I want, he backed off. 

OK, sorry for that rant, again the truancy office was trying to make the case that somebody has to teach the kids work ethic, and was trying to sell the idea that it was the schools responsibility. In my opinion, this goes to show you the overall mindset of our public school system, however it does not stop there, this is in general the mindset of our government officials as well, and we can see this in Senator Ashford and others. 

I will finish up with a few more comments; lately we’ve seen more media attention drawn to our plight. Along with this (as we can see on the OWH website) brings some crazy opinions out of people. How can you call me a bad parent, because I’m ok with my child’s excused non-truant absence, whether for being sick or any other matter I believe is in my child's best interest? I take personal offense to that, even though most of these comments are made about other parents, who have far worst situations than I. This has nothing to do with teaching children responsibility; it has everything to do with parental freedom and religious freedom.

Why is a parent referred to as a deadbeat, when they keep their parenting responsibility instead of giving it to the state?

What happens when “they” try to take something away that you care deeply about?

What will you do when they come after your children?

Chad Lehmer
Omaha, NE

Kylie Jackson's Committee Testimony: Feb 13, 2012

FEBRUARY 13, 2012

Hello senators, my name is Kylie Jackson. I am 12 years old in 6th grade at Pawnee Elementary School in Omaha. I am here to read my statement in support of Senator Tony Fulton’s bill, LB1165. In order to be here today, I am absent, not truant even thought this law wants to label me that way. I don’t like that label pinned on my name.

I’m a great student. I behave like I am supposed to, I pay attention in class, and I finish and turn in all of my assignments on time every day, and if I was sick my mom would always call the school office and ask them to get my work for the day so I wasn’t behind when I came back to school. I am here today getting an educational experience I couldn’t get in my class at my school. During last school year, I received 2 once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. 

In February, I got to go to Kennedy Space Center to see one of NASA’s last space shuttle launches. That was very important to me because I want to be an astronaut when I grow up. My mom and I tried really hard to see a launch, but this was the first and only time we were fortunate enough to. I missed 8 days of school on that trip. I learned a lot about the space program and the history of the space shuttle. 

Then in April, I got to go the Bahamas for a family reunion for my Dad’s side of my family. There I met new relatives who I didn’t even know existed. We went on a bus tour and learned about the history and culture of the Bahamas. I even got to swim with the dolphins, which is something I will never forget. I missed another 4 days. 

When I went to Florida, all of the work I would be missing was made up before I left. My teacher even gave me a fun project to do while I was there. She didn’t give me any work to do when I went to the Bahamas in April because I was so far ahead of my class. I didn’t just go on these trips for fun, I went for an experience I couldn’t get in my classroom. 

I was absent a total of 12 days by then. I was sick quite a few days last year and I was bullied frequently. By the end of April, I’d been gone 20 days. Then I missed one more day because I was sick again. That got me up to a grand total of 21 days missed by the end of my 2010-2011, fifth grade year. 

Even through my strep throat and sinus infections, staying home for getting bullied, and my trips, I had spectacular grades. I was on the 2nd Honors (A-B) Honor Roll for 3 quarters and 1st (all-A) Honor Roll for one. In June, my mom got a letter in the mail from the Sarpy County Attorney AFTER school was over and done with. The letter said that my attendance would be monitored. Monitored? That put me under the impression that I did something terribly wrong and I wasn’t allowed to miss any school days in my 6th grade year. 

I started feeling nervous when I started missing school because I was sick. I’ve already missed 4 ½ days this year, and I am missing today for this. My older sister got married in Hawaii this past November, and I was unable to go. That’s wrong. I shouldn’t have had to miss my own sister’s wedding because of this law and its possible consequences on my family and me. How would you feel if you were in this situation? That disappointed my whole family. This law can’t simply define kids like me. I’m not going to have a horrible life when I grow up because I was occasionally absent from school. I’ve learned a lot while my seat has been vacant and my chair at school is cold, but the things I’ve learned on my travels were things I NEVER could have learned while sitting in my seat at class.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Media Covers Truancy Hearings Extensively!

The Impact of Yesterday’s Legislative Hearing

This morning I awoke to a hurricane of emotions swirling on the NFF Facebook group, my inbox was full and my phone exploding with text messages from angry despondent parents who hung their hopes on yesterday’s committee hearing. For those families who came prepared to give their three minute testimonies the experience has been discouraging and infuriating. Instead of feeling like their government heard them and is listening they went away with even less confidence in the political process. I have been concerned by a hopelessness in the words of so many.

For a year I been working to engage families impacted by Nebraska’s truancy law in the political process and I was proud to see so many of you come to the hearing despite the bad whether, sit through 4 hours of discouraging testimony by Nebraska “experts” who see no problem with addressing truancy in this way. I know how discouraging it can be, believe me, it is emotionally draining and often you are left feeling the overwhelming desire to give up.

Whatever the intent behind Sen. Ashford’s chosen format yesterday, today it has been fuel to the fire, that no one can control. It has widened the gap between concerned parents and the committee tasked with fixing this law. The conversations I have had with Sen. Ashford, his LA Stacey Conroy, and others on the committee, they have expressed a desire to work out a solution that will protect innocent children. I believe we want the same thing, a solution, and I believe we can get it.

I know it is hard, but don’t give up, don’t be discouraged! We need to be positive and continue to make our case to the media, lawmakers, and the Governor. We’ve come further than anyone expected a year ago. Last year when I first sat down with Sen. Fulton he said that it was going to be a Goliath effort. We were looking at turning around an entire government stubbornly holding to their idea as the best solution to addressing some areas of serious concern. Every state official who has been active in this effort has recommended no changes be made to the law, and yet Sen. Ashford has three bills on his desk to consider, including his own.

It may be a Goliath effort, but remember that David took down Goliath with a small stone. Have faith the mountain can be moved and never give up. This is no defeat, this is not a failure! It is an extraordinary feat. We have gone from news coverage that was dismissive of parents' concerns, to news coverage that is effectively communicating those concerns, and telling the personal stories that underlie them.

Here are the news stories that have come out of the hearing yesterday. You should be proud of your efforts!! Let’s keep it up. Come to the Q&A tomorrow and show the media that people want this fixed and keep the pressure on!!

Lincoln Journal Star

Omaha World-Herald

North Platte Bulletin

North Platte Bulletin - Letter From Brenda Vosik

KETV Channel 7 - Omaha

KLKN TV (ABC in Lincoln)

KMTV, Channel 3 (Omaha)

And Stephanie's interview with Scott Voorhees

Testimony before the Judiciary Committee 2/13/12

My name is Brenda Vosik. I live at 1422 So. 158th Circle in Omaha, in the Millard School District. I am speaking in opposition to LB917, which amends LB800 by carving out special protections for only two groups.

Nebraska’s excessive absenteeism law needs to be changed, and quickly, as many innocent, non-truant, children are suffering under it. However, LB 917 does not provide the protections these innocent children need while still pursuing students who are really truant, which means “absent without permission.” While protecting children with serious documented illnesses and those visiting with a parent returning from deployment is a laudable goal, it doesn’t prevent many other non-truant students from falling into the clutches of law enforcement unnecessarily.

It seems that what parents know for a fact – but public officials are choosing to ignore – is that there are many legitimate reasons to be absent from school. Children in our state who are absent for good reasons, with their parents’ permission, are regarded as truants under our current law and would still be targeted under LB917. Here are a few real-life examples from Nebraska families.

Students attending funerals are not protected under our current law or under this amendment, LB917. Many of you may remember the tragic automobile accident that killed an Omaha South High School teacher in November 2010. After his wife’s death and funeral, the teacher’s widower received a letter warning that his eighth grade daughter was excessively absent and threatening action by the County Attorney. Those days missed for her mother’s funeral were counted towards this child’s “truancy tally.” I think we can all agree that is terribly wrong. Under our current law, this child was not protected from legal action for attending her own mother’s funeral, and she wouldn’t be protected under LB917.

A group of talented young Omaha dancers was selected to perform in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. It was on the front page of the Omaha World-Herald. They had to miss three days of school to participate—three days that count toward their “truancy tally.” These girls were clearly not truant but were treated as such under our current law. LB917 would not change that. Nebraska Education Commissioner Roger Breed, speaking to this very committee in December, stated that students like these young ladies, students who aspire to high-level athletics or other exceptional achievements, cause a “resource issue” for our schools; in other words, their success is a problem rather than a source of pride for our state. I’m afraid we won’t need to worry about this “problem” for long. It will eventually solve itself as our highest-achieving students and athletes move to other states that treat them with respect instead of as truants.

An honors student from Lincoln High School responded to the earthquake in Haiti by attending a weeklong national youth service trip to help build sustainable housing for 40 displaced Haitian families. This young lady is not running around committing crimes, doomed to a life of failure because she was absent for a week. In fact, she is here today and she is still an honors student with a 3.82 GPA and 12th in her class of 357. This is another of Nebraska’s “resource problems” who, according to our law, should have been seated at her school desk instead of helping her fellow human beings that week. Something tells me our Creator would disagree with that position. This young lady is clearly not truant, but is regarded as such under our current law. LB917 would not change that.

A young man earned a perfect 36 on his ACT. He took two days off of school to visit an Ivy League college. Based on our current law, there is no excuse for that and those two days count toward his “truancy tally”. What is this telling our highest achieving students? Perhaps the message is that Nebraska students can now only aspire to their local community college, under threat of legal action. Is that really the message we want to send? This young man was clearly not truant, but is regarded as such under our current law. LB917 would not change that.

Every day, hundreds of students across Nebraska have bad colds or flu, they run low grade fevers, they are vomiting. Per school policy and common sense, they are supposed to stay home; many are even sent home by the school nurse. Isn’t it ironic that even when children are sent home by the school nurse with minor ailments such as colds and flu, fevers, rashes, head lice and pink eye, their absences are counted toward their “truancy tally”? Actually, it’s more than ironic, it’s ridiculous, it’s appalling, and I would find it hard to believe if it wasn’t happening every day to people I personally know. Many parents, including me, are now sending their children to school with these ailments, against their better judgment, against the advice of their family doctors, and contrary to the pleadings of school nurses. In some of the Millard Public Schools, small children who go to the school nurse complaining of illness are told how many days they’ve missed, and are pressured to “tough it out” and stay at school. At Beadle Middle School, a young lady was kept at school in spite of the nurse finding lice on her head, although her sister was sent home because of the same issue. Why? This girl had pneumonia the week before and the school wouldn’t allow her to miss any more days because of the truancy law. She was told to go back to class and not touch anyone. As a parent of a public school child, this is not o.k. with me and I’m sure it wasn’t o.k. with the dozens of other parents whose children were exposed to those lice—all because of our ridiculous truancy law. It’s frightening that until children with these minor illnesses are protected from legal action, parents will continue to send them to school, putting their own health and the public health in jeopardy. These children are clearly not truant, but our law treats them as such. Amendment 917 does not change this.

Our one-size-fits-all definition of truancy substitutes the irrational judgment of the state in place of the common sense of the parent. Since when is the state a better parent than I am? What arrogance for the state to tell me, and my family’s doctor, when it’s best for my child to stay home.

Although the new excessive absenteeism law desperately needs to be changed, LB 917 is not the way to do it. Instead of casting a wide net over every family in Nebraska and then carving out tiny little exceptions, let’s fix the entire law and fix it right by returning to the true definition of truancy: absent without permission.

Kids Scared of Being Taken From Their Parents over Truancy

I am 15 years old and I have been sick because of these stomach problems I have had since I was in the fourth grade. I am now a freshman in high school. I have missed 20 days of school due to these stomach issues I am on honor roll at Central High and I am a honors student. My stomach issues were never diagnosed but the still keep happening some doctors say its what I'm eating or its just stress. I don't know what to do or even if a court will believe my story because we don't have any doctors notes or anything like that on file. My parents are worried I'll be put into a foster home because my mom misses a lot of work to be home with me and that also looks bad.

~ I'm sick, but in Nebraska I'm "TRUANT"

Truancy Bill Under Revision - by KLKN TV in Lincoln

Nebraska's new truancy law is receiving increasing media attention, as the stories of the families affected by it increase in number and variety. Yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearing for LB 1165, LB 917 and LB 933 drew the attention of many media outlets. This TV news story highlights the concerns of NFF member Christine Bates and her daughter, Dominique.

Monday, February 13, 2012

State Authorities Press for Access to the Private Medical Records of Minors: Is HIPPAA Violated?

This mother shares her experience with the shifting attitudes of school authorities related to school attendance since the passage of the 2010 school attendance law. The story demonstrates the very dangerous effects on parental authority and the integrity of families when the state constructs policies and procedures that do not honor the natural God-given rights of parents to care for and judge what is best for their children. This mother would prefer to remain anonymous because of fear of retaliation against her by school and state authorities. 

I am a retired widow with a B.S., B.A., B.S.E. and 16 years experience in teaching in the public schools with an "A+" evaluation for effective teaching, and my sons mother. Despite this my judgment to care for my own child has been under scrutiny because of Nebraska's truancy law. My son needs medical care supervised by his own doctors of my and his choosing without government interference or scrutiny. When I hospitalized him several times in 2009 to 2010 and took him out of school for doctor appointments, I was called into a meeting at his school and received letters from the school district and a phone call from the school social worker requiring me to defend my actions.

I was threatened with the possibility of having his medical care removed from my ability as his parent to make medical choices for him based on my knowledge as his mother of his needs according to his doctors. I was told that I had better mend my ways or I would find myself in the county attorney's office and possibly in court. I was rudely told I needed to support my son's education and to stop trying to interfere with it. I do not need to be threatened with losing my parental rights and removal of my child from my home because I am following the direction that his doctors have recommended. Parents, of course, want educated children. To accuse any parent with medical needs children of not wanting educated children is ridiculous but that is what is happening due to this flawed law.

We do not need school personnel and the court system looking over private medical records and deciding if doctors and parental choices are the correct choices for students because these choices were/are taking students out of school more than 10- 20 days in a semester/year. I believe the current truancy Nebraska law that is requiring any parent to defend their family by turning over medical records for the purpose of governmental evaluation or face the disruption of their family is an invasion of privacy and is a direct violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act. My son has a right to privacy. I will not state his diagnosis here because I believe in the right to privacy of medical records. His medical records did and do support his need to be absent from school at that time. I should not be threatened with having to pay legal fees/take action to defend him. All the school should have needed is/was a medical note they received from his doctor(s) verifying he was absent for medical care and that should be the end of it

Parents of medical needs children are not having their needs fully met in public schools in Nebraska. Parent are being told they do not know what their kids need, are not knowledgeable enough to make decisions or lack the education to understand the needs of their student so the government needs to take over. In a State with one of the worst child foster care records in the entire United States, the threat of government interference is I removed him from public government scrutiny by taking him out of public school and placing him in private school.

I responded to these threats, that the doctor's opinion and my opinion of my son's needs were possibly incorrect and possibly needed the supervision of the government and school officials under the direction of the county attorney, by my choice to remove him from this high school who threatened and bullied us. His medical needs and educational needs are now met in a private school setting without the government interfering with our family choices. His previous high school now can show his "truancy" improved because he is no longer counted because he is no longer there. So what are the statistics on truancy actually showing?. How many kids are being removed from the public school system at additional expense to their family so their families can protect them and their medical record privacy from their own government. How many families do not have the resources to make the choice I felt forced to make? Is this the America we want?

He is lucky to have enough family/medical support so he can attend private classes. He is expecting to graduate from high school with approximately a "B" average but the threats by the government to his family should have never happened.

Forced Seat Time vs. Quality School Time

The active and concerned mother who wrote this experience did not identify herself or daughter by name. Please understand that parents fear that their student will be retaliated against if they make their objections public. This is just one more sad fact of the contentious nature of the law.

I was told by the attendance clerk, in the district where my daughter was enrolled, that when the school pulls students out of class for school activities like field trips, band trips, athletics and other activities it is counted by the school district toward the 20 day maximum absences allowed in one year. Therefore, my daughter must now be concerned about participating in too many school activities/sporting activities that pull her out of her regular classes. If she does too many school activities she could end up with not enough "forced seat time" in her regular classes and be over the 20 day maximum and be reported to the county attorney for too many "excused" absences.

She knows she has to watch out for too many excused absences because she got a letter last year that she took very seriously. While we were told not to worry, she did not want to take the chance of missing another day of school to explain her active lifestyle to the county attorney. My daughter didn't even attend her granduncle's funeral this past month and has dropped out of her high school sport because of fear of being drawn into the county court system for excessive absences for family funerals and excused school activities. It would have been her 5th family funeral over the past 4 years. She is only 16. She should not have to worry about the government affecting her personal liberty to attend these events.

She is but one of thousands of school kids in this situation. Good kids should not be punished for "excessive absences" because they want to experience as many school activities and sports as their teachers and grades might support. Students are then effectively being told to participate in school/athletics but watch out not to too participate too much. Is this the true intent of the law passed by Nebraska lawmakers?

There needs to be an exclusion in the truancy law for excused school sponsored activities/club sporting activities for kids who are getting a 3.0 or better and being successful in school. Her teachers have effectively allowed her to do work on the Internet - like a home school student - and attend to her schoolwork after or before school to get all work done to make up for missed "forced seat time". Given her weighted 4.4 GPA, I believe she is being effectively educated and that a combination of "quality school time" and her teacher's assignments done on the internet that make up for any "forced seat time".

She does a club sport and sometimes misses school to compete and attend specialized camps in her sport. She is highly likely to compete this sport in college and get a scholarship for competing it. She holds 7 other AAU All American titles and over a dozen national championships medals in the various the club sports she has competed. She is typical of our Nebraska teens.

Excused school field trips and athletic activities are as valuable as "forced seat time" in a classroom as long as regular classroom class material as long as academic indicators demonstrate that the material is being learned. Therefore, excused school field trips and athletic activities should not be counted in the 20 day maximum of days out of school. She should be allowed to feel that she could participate in her school/athletic activities without risking being reported to the county attorney as an excused "excessively absent" student. A truant!

We ask that the law be altered to allow good students access to all their school and club sports have to offer. She only has 4 years to enjoy high school. She will never get another chance to enjoy all her excellent school has to offer, so naturally she wants to take advantage of as many school activities and classes as she might be qualified for given her AP gifted honors school schedule.

Nebraska has many talented students and she is but one of the many thousands of gifted students/kids in Nebraska. Let them participate in all that our great Nebraska schools have to offer in "quality school time" instead of "forced seat time."

~ Active Nebraska Mom

Lawmakers Hear Concerns Over Truancy Law - Video - KETV Omaha

Watch News Cast here:
Lawmakers Hear Concerns Over Truancy Law - Video - KETV Omaha

We certainly don't have to go back to the way things were before the 2010 school attendance law to see that it is fixed going forward. Action 3 reports that Nebraska Truancy Law may have "worked too well", in the words of Sen. Brad Ashford. That is a crafty political take on it. The most solid fix for the law is the bill Sen. Tony Fulton introduced his bill, LB1165, to the Judiciary Committee today in Lincoln.

This bill is a strong, clear truancy statute that designates appropriate control over attendance policy to school districts, and the communities who fund and govern them. There is a clear point of legal intervention which provides essential protections to the innocent, but does not cripple the ability of schools to expose serious educational neglect. It empowers legal authorities to reach truant students early while ensuring that children with excused absences will never be punished under the law.

If the Fulton’s bill is adopted by Sen. Ashford he will have established a law that is just, known, and predictable; a law that places appropriate restraints on government and will prevent the arbitrary use and abuse of power.

Parents, Students Head to the Capitol

Watch the News Cast here:
Parents, Students Head to the Capitol

Action 3 News reports that Nebraska Truancy Law may have "worked too well", says Sen. Brad Ashford, after hearing the first hand experiences of innocent kids and families caught in the net. Sen. Tony Fulton introduced his bill, LB1165, to the Judiciary Committee today in Lincoln. The only bill offered that will restore local control to school district policies to define excused and unexcused absences for purposes of preventing innocent students from coming under legal review.

The Fulton bill will restore the distinction between excused and unexcused absences as an important indicator of "at-risk" behavior. The law will provide a more targeted, well defined, and predictable trigger for legal intervention. It will restore local control to school districts and the families and communities that govern and fund them. It treats excessive absenteeism and truancy as separate issues that should be addressed in different ways.

Thursday, February 9, 2012

The Costello Family

My son is 8 and attends his neighborhood school in the general education classroom in Millard. He has Down Syndrome, reflux and an immune dieficiency that requires weekly infusions. Even with the infusions he gets sick easily. Last year (2010/2011) he was diagnosed with celiac disease. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and had two penile surgical procedures. He has a low base temperature so if he reaches 99.3, the school is required to send him home. Additionally, his cousin committed suicide and he missed school to attend the funeral.

Everytime I got the letter, my blood boiled and added to our family anxiety. (My husband also lost his job during this time and my 80 yr old mother collapsed and was hospitalized after my nephew’s death) We had excellent support from our school and the social worker. She told us the school sends a letter with their recommendation, and she assured me that it should help. We received a letter in September, after the kids were back in school, from the DA that our case would not be pursued.

Now Ethan has several specialists he sees that require us to leave school for appts. He had undiagnosed mono for most of the first semester. He was often tardy because if he has a bad night of sleep we let him sleep in or his day at school is unproductive. He must wait 30 min after taking his first pill of the day before he can eat, so we cannot rush his morning. The earlier start is also hard for us. His sleep apnea was also diagnosed this year, to and he has been sicker than usual even with the infusions. His immunologist also believes his body is not tolerating his current medication, causing extreme fatigue, so we have taken him off and hope antibiotics will control his expected infections without hospitalization.

I don’t know how much his obvious disability played into our experience. I will say that our experience was better than most, although we did experience stress. In reading the other stories, it sounds like the schools were not supporting the people much either. Our social worker told us she believes their recommendation carries a lot of weight. Perhaps part of the problem is with schools that fail to look outside the box and support special needs.

Even with the positive outcome last year, I stress about his truancy this year. My Ethan has already missed more than 15 days, and I send him to school when my gut tells me I should keep him home The school and the social worker tell me not to worry, but it’s always possible the Court will decide to investigate my case. I think about the time and money spent on a case that is obviously going to continue.

Mary Costello
Mom to Ethan
Millard Public Schools
Omaha, NE