Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The Connection Between Nebraska's Truancy Law and Mandated Mental Health Screenings

I would like to share some thoughts that have occurred to me in relation to mandated mental health screenings, the truancy law, and the way those two fit together.

Over the past 18 months, I have talked to and personally met a multitude of families with heartbreaking stories resulting from our state’s misguided attempt to force children to be in school every day, no matter what.  I have personally seen the abuses of this law by our assistant county attorneys, school district personnel and judges. 

I’ve spent countless hours pondering the agenda of those who wish to criminalize children and families for merely living their lives and making reasonable decisions that have been made within the family unit for hundreds of years.  I admit, I don’t have the answers.  I don’t know why parents are being assaulted by the very people they elect (politicians) and employ (school officials and government employees).

I am going to outline a scenario that has been going through my mind.  Although hypothetical, it is based on the realities of what I have personally seen happen to Nebraska families over the past two years since the truancy legislation was passed.  

A chronically ill child is referred to the county attorney after 20 days absence.  (In spite of last year’s amendment, some school districts are still referring students at 20 days regardless of the reason and letting the county attorney sort them out.)

The county attorney and his staff demand access to all the child’s health records to prove that the child was really ill and goes over those records with a fine tooth comb. We at the NFF know that assistant county attorneys are making interpretations and drawing conclusions about medical information and parenting with absolutely no qualifications to do so.  They have questioned parents about whether their child’s illness was really serious enough for 20 absences.  They have asked parents in open court what they’ve done to make sure their child doesn’t get sick again in the future.  They have questioned parents’ judgment and veracity in public meetings.  These assistant county attorneys feel empowered to question parents, and even doctors, and to judge every parental decision.  They even review a child’s school file and look at grades and minor disciplinary infractions in their quest to determine whether this is a child who “deserves” to be prosecuted for being absent.

In recent conversations with the Douglas County Attorney's Office, two members of the staff referred to a child’s grades as being reason why the child’s sick days needed to be scrutinized.  Really?  So having grades below A’s and B’s is a crime now too?  This is very frightening.  My son recently had two bouts of pneumonia and missed a week of school.  The timing of his absences fell at the end of the quarter so when quarter grades came out, his report card showed that he was failing two classes.  Of course he’s not really failing, he simply had missed a couple of assignments and tests during his illness which were promptly made up when he returned.  But those failing grades are now in his permanent record for assistant county attorneys to peruse and judge and prosecute.  The parent is then put in a position to justify, usually through an attorney costing several thousand dollars, why the child was failing at that one moment in time.  There is no reason a parent should ever have to justify this to law enforcement.  It has nothing to do with the truancy law and since a failing grade is not illegal (yet), it should be none of the county attorney's concern and should not factor into a decision on prosecution.

This expansion of truancy enforcement into grades, school detentions, and other aspects of a child's life having nothing to do with truancy cause me to wonder how long it will be before a do-good senator who is just “trying to help” introduces legislation that makes D’s and F’s (and maybe C’s) a status offense subject to prosecution.  Sound crazy?  Maybe – but did you ever think that sick children would be put on probation or diversion and be threatened with foster care?  Did you ever think a sick child would be handcuffed and arrested when she cried and asked the judge why she was being taken from her mother?  Did you ever think a sick child would be surreptitiously drug tested by a county attorney without her parents’ knowledge or consent?  Did you ever think a child with lice would be told to go back to class and not touch anyone because she’d already had too many sick days?  These are all true stories, so maybe the thought that bad grades will be made illegal is not so crazy after all.

So, with what we already know about the abuses of the attendance law, let’s think about these mandatory mental health screenings being in a child’s medical file.  It’s not a big leap to assume that the county attorneys will now use these subjective results to further penalize families.  Let’s say your child’s pediatrician--who, by the way, is not a mental health professional--concludes your child might have depression or ADHD because of a couple questions on a short survey.  As a parent who knows your child best, you decline to pursue treatment.  Your child happens to miss 20 days and is turned over to the county attorney.  The county attorney demands your medical records to prove that your child was really “sick enough” to miss 20 days.  Of course you can decline to hand those records over but you risk being prosecuted and threatened with the removal of your sick child, so you decide to provide the records to the county attorney.

In those medical records there’s that mental health screening.  Now the county attorney is tracking your “problem child” and questioning why you didn’t get treatment.  Next thing you know you’re accused of something you’ve never even heard of:  Mental health neglect.  Don’t laugh; it may not be a real term now but just wait.  They came up with the bogus crime of “educational neglect” so a new category used to criminalize parents is not a stretch at all.  The next call is to CPS.  Do you see where I'm going here?

If you think your child's mental health screening will be kept confidential no matter what, think again.  If you think it would never be used against you, think again.

I’m not a conspiracy theorist but something is very wrong here.  I don’t know what else to say except that OUR WORK IS NOT DONE.  We need to remain vigilant, we need to remain vocal, we need to keep standing up for our children and our parental rights and work to regain the rights that have already been taken from us.  We did not sign our parental rights over to the state when we enrolled our children in school.  We simply asked the schools to teach our children math, reading, social studies and science and we pay them a lot of our hard-earned money to do so.  Now we need to keep sending our message to the schools and the legislature until they get it:  Teach our children the basics and send them home for the rest.


  1. Brenda Vosik, director of the Nebraska Family Forum, raises serious concerns about the intentions behind Nebraska's harsh school attendance law and proposed legislation to force mental health screenings on public school children.

    What some of you may not know is Nebraska takes children from their homes at the second highest rate in the country and even the architect of Nebraska's so called truancy law has admitted publicly that the law was necessary as a tool for rooting out child abuse.

    NEBRASKA parents if you want to retain your parental rights and your innocence till proven guilty, it is imperative that you join your time, sincere efforts, a resources with Brenda Vosik and the NFF to fight back against government intrusion into family life!

    Remember this news story where Sen. Brad Ashford admitted publicly what the agenda is: http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2012/02/truancy-or-child-neglect-which-laws-are.html?m=1

  2. I am one of the parents Brenda is referring to in this article and I have been put through the justice system to defend my parenting of a child with a medical condition. This meant that my son's medical records became evidence and the county attorney and his deputy attorney went through them all to determine if we were telling the truth and if he was ill enough. It is happening and there is no privacy for our kids in the school system. Parents, please stand up and stop this insanity.

  3. Quoting Supreme Court Justice McReynolds, these word were written in the early 1900's:

    The Court has never attempted to define, with exactness, the liberty guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment. Without doubt, it denotes not merely freedom from bodily restraint but also the right of the individual to engage in any of the common occupations of life, to acquire useful knowledge, to marry, establish a home and bring up children, to worship God according to the dictates of his own conscience, and generally to enjoy those privileges long recognized at common law as essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men.

    The Fourteenth Amendment still applies. Parents, we have a right to make decisions about our own children's lives. Please speak up and let your State Senators know that you, as a parent, are best decision maker for your own children. Please consider publicly stating your opposition to the further intrusion of the government into average citizen's everyday lives.

  4. HIPPA protections do not apply to any record collected by an educational program. If these mental health evaluations are collected by the school or a program funded by the State or Federal department of education they are legally Education Records NOT Health records.

  5. You are correct, HIPPA does not apply to data collected through the education department. This education back door has been chosen by design because it is how state and federal authorities can get around laws meant to protect our privacy and the privacy of our children.

    To me connecting the dots must be done if parents are to understand how the federal education agenda is designed to undermine parental rights. We have to wake up to the dangers and understand how to fight back.

    When I was researching the agenda behind Nebraska's truancy law I followed the money trail. The best way to understand the true objective behind an agenda is to find the strings.

    In this agenda the strings are controlled at the Federal Department of Education. When Obama tacked his "RACE TO THE TOP" education initiative to the stimulus (American Recovery and Reinvestment Act) he started a domino effect (I believe by design).

    RTT made states compete for education dollars, they were awarded points that related to certain education policies they had already implemented in their states, but in order to be eligible to even apply for the grant they had to meet three criteria.

    Two of the three required states to 1) create comprehensive data bases for collecting student data in the name of improving educational outcomes, 2) They had to break down any legal or statutory barriers that would prevent information sharing between education and other "youth services" -- to include DHHS, law enforcement, and any government departments who service youth.

    The walls our legal codes had built to protect the privacy of children and families were torn down, the data bases built, and now the data is being collected and shared between the department of education and other state departments.

    As if that doesn't already present some real risks to our constitutional rights and lends to abuse of power by our state government, under RTT states were awarded points if they cooperated with other states by sharing what worked and didn't in the creation of their data bases.

    The RTT Executive Summary plainly revealed the purpose, that the best systems would be designed and shared throughout the states creating "continuity". What could the Feds want with "continuity" in state systems except if they planned to gain access to the information at the federal level through the Department of Education.

    As citizens we need to stop being afraid to examine, not just the stated intentions of the laws and policies of our government, but where these things will lead us. If we continue to be afraid of sounding like crazy conspiracy theorist, then those who by design would break the ties that bind us to our children, will win.

    We can't let that happen! The cost is too high!

  6. Do you have meetings with parents that share your concerns? People I've shared my concerns with have poo pooed them or made light of it saying the screening might be as simple as can he sit still and pay attention. My thought is that it might not be that simple.....what if???

    1. Hi Anonymous: No one really knows what the standardized screening will consist of, because that information was not included in the legislative bill. However, you are right to be concerned. Our children - as with all people - are diverse.

      Any notion that a standardized test should be given to our children as a mandate for entering school - with the interpretation of the answers performed by who-knows-who? and the information going who-knows-where? to be used who-knows how? is dangerous.

      We have a right to privacy. We still have a right to decide whether we want our children to be subjected to any mental health or medical test.

      If the people who have made light of your concerns want to subject their own children to such tests, they are welcome to do it. No one is stopping them. But that's a far cry from requiring that all children be subjected to it, by mandate of the government.

      The ramifications are huge.

      Any such initiatives must offer an OPT IN (for parents to explicitly give permission), not just an OPT OUT (where parents must know about it and then reject the test).

      LB556 is going back to the drawing board. Senator McGill indicated she will write several amendments addressing our concerns. We'll see what those are when they are offered.

      Are you interested in meetings that involve parents discussing these issues? The NFF doesn't organize them outside of Facebook and special planning meetings around specific issues, but there are opportunities in Omaha for parents to speak out and share concerns. Let me know if you're interested in those.