Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Herrera Family: Is the law working?

For Victoria Herrera, she believed her trust was well placed in Millard Public Schools, a district with an unmatched reputation for excellence. She had no idea just how poorly misplaced her trust was until the passage of Nebraska’s invasive truancy law in 2010, that has been used as an excuse for schools to crack down hard on what they deem to be “trouble parents”. The past year has been an unimaginable nightmare for her young daughter and her family as they fell victim to Nebraska’s heavy-handed approach to “improving school attendance."

For her daughter, it started with bullying in 1st grade, bullying her mother did not understand the full breadth of until her daughter reached 3rd grade. 3rd grade was the year she began allowing her daughter to walk home from school on her own, but she never imagined that her daughter would be assaulted by several kids who had persistently tormented her for years. With only 24 days left in the 2009/2010 school year her daughter was beaten by several kids with sticks on her way home from school.

As if the beating her daughter got wasn't injury enough, the reaction of Millard school administrators and Douglas County police was unforgiveable. Victoria talked to the Neihardt Elementary school principal where her daughter was enrolled about the bullying and the serious assault specifically and the school took no action against the students who were responsible, siting the excuse that the school is not responsible for what happens to a student on their path home from school. Even after contacting the Superintendent of Millard Schools, Dr. Keith Lutz, there was no effort to resolve the issue at the school level and no effort to contact the parents of the kids responsible.

With only 24 days left of the school year, and school authorities unwilling to address her daughter’s safety, Victoria pulled her daughter from school with the intention of home schooling for the remainder of the year. The summer passed without incident and with the hiring of a new principal, Victoria was willing to try to work it out with her school and hoped that her daughter’s 4th grade year would be better. Victoria requested that her daughter be placed in a class without any of the children who had bullied her, but the school placed her in class with one of the primary culprits and the bullying continued. To make matters worse she was told that she was being referred to the county attorney for “truancy."

Victoria said the authorities at her school were “so sweet to her in person."  They reassured her that the truancy filing was a mere formality and nothing was likely to come of it. What she experienced next could not have been further from that. She was sickened by the way she was treated at Douglas County Court. Victoria said, “I didn’t even get to talk!! I wasn’t allowed to tell my story.” The officials she met with berated her and made it very clear that if your child misses 20 days of school or more you’re just a bad mom! Because of the way she was treated she decided to get a lawyer.

On the day of her first court hearing her daughter was assaulted by a boy at school. The boy yelled at her during lunch, “If you don’t shut up I’m going to hit you.” When she ignored his threat he hit her with students and teachers as witnesses. The principal handled the incident by telling her daughter to smack him, saying “show me how he hit you!"  The principal held her daughter in the office for three hours until her daughter “admitted” it was an accident. The school district never reported the incidents to the police and when Victoria called the police they told her to her face they would not make a report. While her family was trying to cope with this ordeal the situation in truancy court got worse.

Victoria did hire an attorney at great expense to her family, but her attorney advised her to plead guilty to the truancy charges, assuring her that it would be over quickly. What she quickly learned was that this gave the courts complete power over her family. She had asked that her daughter not talk to the school psychologist anymore because the psychologist told her “she was being hit by boys because she was pretty.” They ignored her request and did it anyway.

Victoria decided she’d had enough and filed her home school paper work. She received the approval and was set to home school when the judge put an injunction on her and ordered that she keep her daughter in school until she had met the requirement of the court for her homeschooling. Even though Victoria met the requirements of Nebraska’s home school law, the court ordered that her curriculum be closely monitored. She was required to give them everyday lesson plans but she jumped through all their hoops.

Despite her cooperation, the court took Victoria’s daughter from her custody at one of the court dates, making her a ward of the state for 20 days, though she remained at home. They placed Victoria on the child neglect and abuse list and ordered in-home visits from social workers. The social workers who visited her home were kind and reassuring and even told Victoria that this case was clearly not a case of neglect and that Victoria was in no danger of losing her daughter to foster care. Then the same social workers reported the exact opposite in court.

Victoria’s ordeal recently came to an end, largely due to a glowing letter written to the court by Amber Morris, her children’s court appointed guardian ad litem. Her very good recommendation in favor of Victoria and her lawyer’s ability to get certain reports from the social workers thrown out ended her case.

Throughout the ordeal Victoria could not believe the duplicity of the school authorities, DHHS social workers, and law enforcement. Everyone who tried to calm her, to tell her they were on her side, that she had nothing to worry about. Victoria jumped through legal hoops to pull the records her school had sent to the county attorney and she was appalled at what she read. The Millard school professionals who she had  trusted, who were so sweet to her face, lied to her face and threw her to the wolves. If she had known from the beginning of the process how untrustworthy Nebraska educators and state officials are she would never have pleaded guilty, never have signed their paperwork, she would have fought it outright!

Victoria Herrera
Millard Public Schools
Omaha, NE


  1. I sure hope we get to meet Victoria on Friday. Her story also should be shared with those legislators who still believe this law has not caused serious civil rights violations against Nebraska parents and children.

  2. I hope the senators get to meet her too. She is yet ANOTHER example of how the more you cooperate, the worse they sock it to you.

    I am infuriated! Stephanie, I think we should start sending these stories directly to the senators whose district they take place in. The senators who represent Millard will start collecting some pretty thick files, and should begin to feel a little more responsibility for what's happening and motivation to do something about it. Some Lincoln-area senators will get some pretty good collections. And once we make some good connections in Western NE, I'm sure we'll find out in which counties the people are being most severely abused under the guise of "helping" them, and start thickening the stacks in a few more senators' offices. {{fuming...fuming!}}

    If a lawmaker can sit back and watch this abuse and say, "It's the school districts' fault; go talk to them," they will prove that they only like to use their power when it benefits their well-connected fellow lawmakers and bureaucrats, and not when it benefits and protects their regular, everyday constituents. I think if they do their homework and understand what this law really made possible, and what's required to fix it so it doesn't sweep up ordinary folks, they will vote for the changes Senator Fulton has proposed. I hope they prove my optimism well-placed!

  3. My family are victims of a corrupted justice system in state of NE. The sad part of all of it is usually the case where the victims side of the story is never made known.
    With laws such as this truancy law as written as it is, it is only making/giving a bigger area for the corruption to build and for those in power with in our legal systems in NE/school systems/ etc to march on in the power of their destruction against another human being, a citizen outside the circle of their destruction.

  4. Hi I was bullied as a youth up until about the end of my 8th grade year, I started Judo the end of my 7th grade year. Now I teach Taekwondo, and Judo to kids. I have about 80 home schooled kids in my class.
    My son is a Conditional Black belt 1st step in Taekwondo now and going to a public school, you see there is no way I can jump through the red tape to home school. So I knew Rowe needed to be able to keep the bullies off on his own.

    The trauma of being bullied will last a life time, but the power God will give you with Taekwondo and Judo, can really help overcome the odds, with out the red tape our Government makes for us.

    I am behind the Home school parents and children all they way. My son and I almost died driving to Lincoln a few years back to support you!

    So if your child is being bullied in school and you can not get them home safe right away, send them to me, let me try and help! I also have about 300 kids in public and christian schools, I even have a few of the bullies, who I am trying to retrain to do what's right.

    I know if you keep your child in my class, he or she will feel much better and empowered to do what is right before God, I see it with my kids time and again.

    We should dump the truancy law and get Judges who do whats right, not follow the letter of the law! Judges should go with what God puts on their hearts, not what Lawyers and lawmakers put on paper!

    Wesley Hall
    (402) 596-1051