Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Hansen Family Update

The Hansen family is breathing a sigh of relief tonight after a tense, emotional five days.  Last Thursday, the Hansens received a summons from the Dodge County Attorney informing them that their 13-year-old son, Christopher, was being charged with habitual truancy and ordered to appear in court in just seven days.  Even though habitual truancy is defined in case law as “the willful unexcused refusal of a pupil to attend school in defiance of parental authority and in violation of an applicable compulsory school attendance law” and every one of Christopher’s absences was for medical reasons, the school social worker had turned Christopher in to the County Attorney for prosecution.  Not only did she turn him in, she failed to conduct the required family meeting in advance of throwing him into the juvenile justice system.  In fact, the social worker has never even personally met Christopher or his parents.

The legal summons served on Christopher was very ominous.  Not only was a guardian ad litem assigned, but even more shocking and frightening was that Christopher was Mirandized like a common criminal.

The last five days have been very tough for young Christopher, who suffers from serious illnesses for which he is being treated by several doctors.  In spite of being sick for 50 days this school year, Christopher has a 3.4 GPA!  He is a smart and sweet young man who has done nothing wrong and did not deserve to be treated this way.

Thankfully, late this afternoon the Hansens were notified that the charges against Christopher have been dismissed.

The NFF would like to thank State Senator Charlie Janssen for intervening in this case.  When Senator Janssen heard about this attack on Christopher, he immediately went to bat for the Hansen family and contacted Fremont Public Schools and the County Attorney.  Senator Janssen and his legislative aide, Chris, really went the extra mile for the Hansens and their assistance is greatly appreciated.

The NFF is also grateful that the Dodge County Attorney was reasonable enough to recognize that this child was not truant and did not deserve to be prosecuted.  The County Attorney was very kind and courteous during my conversation with him and his swift action to resolve this case fairly is appreciated.

As for Fremont Public Schools….well….let’s just say there are issues that need to be addressed from the top down.  We are pleased that the superintendent acknowledged his staff had made errors in this case, including providing the Hansens with inaccurate legal information and not facilitating the appropriate meetings prior to turning Christopher over to law enforcement.  We are also glad that the superintendent had the social worker contact the county attorney and request that charges not be pursued.

However, during my conversation with the superintendent, he repeatedly justified the actions of Fremont Public Schools by saying that although the law doesn’t require them to turn in sick kids, the law allows them to. 

Apparently the fact that Christopher is an excellent student who has kept up with his school work doesn’t matter—he was absent 50 days.  Apparently the fact that Christopher has three siblings in the school system who do not have attendance issues doesn’t matter—he was absent 50 days.  Apparently the fact that Christopher’s mother was in constant contact with the school about Christopher’s illnesses doesn't matter—he was absent 50 days.  The superintendent staunchly stuck to his position that Christopher was absent 50 days and they had every right to turn him over to the courts.

My response to the superintendent of Fremont Public Schools is:  Just because you have the right doesn’t mean it is right.

The stress and emotional damage visited upon this innocent child and his family were completely avoidable and completely inexcusable.  Another child has been betrayed by those who are entrusted with his care.  The relationship between the school district and this fine family has been irretrievably damaged.  Because there is no acknowledgement by the school district that their actions were wrong, there is also no guarantee that this won't happen again to Christopher or to other innocent children in the future.

But today the news is good—Christopher is free from these false charges.

Tomorrow we continue to fight.  We fight for the freedom to raise our families as we see fit.  We fight for our parental rights.  We fight for our children.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Shattered Trust: Our Children Betrayed

In this battle for our children and our parental rights, one of the hardest things to accept is the wedge that has been driven between families and schools. It is so difficult to see the pain of a child who suddenly realizes that his teacher, his principal, and his school counselor were not his friends and he could not trust them to stand up for him when it counted. It is so hard to watch the confusion of a child when the adults he has relied on for years betray him. Believe me, it is a huge betrayal, being turned over to law enforcement because you're sick.

I am disheartened today because one year after our hard-fought amendment was passed, school districts are still turning in children with excused absences. Today the superintendent of Fremont Public Schools justified his staff's actions by saying that although the law doesn't require them to turn in sick children after twenty days, the law allows them to.

Why? Why would a school district choose to throw a sick child with good grades from a responsible family into the juvenile justice system? Criminalizing this child will not make him well. What it will do is cause severe stress, fear and emotional harm to the innocent child. What it will do is damage the relationship between child and school irreparably.

I miss the days when the schools truly cared about the whole child instead of just caring about whether they are there.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

LB 556: Testimony from the director of the NFF opposing school based telehealth services


My name is Brenda Vosik.  I am the director of Nebraska Family Forum, a grassroots organization of 495 citizens statewide who are concerned about education, child welfare, and parental rights issues in Nebraska.  I am representing this group’s concerns with LB 556.

I originally planned to discuss our serious issues with the mandatory mental health screening requirements in Sections 4 and 7, as well as the added mandatory physical at grade 9.  However, it does appear that Senator McGill has recognized that these issues are problematic and she plans to amend the bill accordingly.  As long as she is willing to put an opt in clause in the bill, our concerns about the mandatory screening are alleviated. 

I do want to emphasize though, that the option needs to be an opt in, not an opt out.  Let me clarify the difference because it’s very important:  An opt out situation means the screening will be done unless the parent proactively tells the doctor that they are declining it.  This would require every Nebraska parent to know that this screening is being done and to know that they have an option to decline.  Unfortunately, my guess would be that most parents would have no idea what was happening until it was over and the results of the screening were placed in their child’s permanent medical record.  What we need is an opt in.  In this case, the doctor can tell the parent that a mental health screening is available as part of the physical and that the cost is covered as preventative care.  The parent would have an opportunity to ask questions about what the screening entails, consider the interests of their child, and then choose how they would like to proceed with no repercussions for their choice.

 “No repercussions” is another important point.  We would like to see that verbiage included in the bill so if a parent makes the decision that their child will not have the mental health screening, or if the parent agrees to the screening but decides not to pursue recommended treatment, there can be no future repercussions such as accusations of neglect.  This would be a very important component of the bill, especially in this state where children are removed from their homes at three times the national rate.  If there is any possibility that this will turn into another gateway law for DHHS to punish and break up families, we need to close that gateway with clear verbiage in the bill.

And speaking of clarity—even though I’ve read this bill numerous times, there are still many aspects that are very confusing.  Sen. McGill and her staff have referred to a mental health crisis in our state.  Maybe that’s true, maybe not.  But if there is indeed a crisis, it’s not a crisis due to lack of screening or due to lack of telehealth services in the schools.  Rather it’s a lack of providers and affordability.  This bill does not address those issues at all. On the contrary, this bill will dump a bunch of newly screened kids with questionable diagnoses into the pool of families clamoring for services.  This can only detract attention and services from the children who are suffering from truly serious mental health issues.

The reason I mention questionable diagnoses is because many of the mental health screening tools on the market are created and financed by big pharmaceutical companies.  Pfizer alone has seven mental health screening tools.  I think we can all agree that the pharmaceutical industry definitely has a financial stake in getting mental health diagnoses on our children.  This renders the screening results questionable at best and harmful at worst.  I am providing an article on the dangers of mental health screening from the Journal of American Physicians and Surgeons.  I ask you to please take the time to read this article.  It’s very important for each of you to be informed on the pros and cons of these screening tools.  I am also providing you with information on the most widely used screening tool, Teen Screen, which is now known to misidentify mental health issues related to suicide risk 83% of the time.  A congressional investigation of the financial ties behind Teen Screen has been initiated, which may be what put a halt to this program at the end of 2012.

Finally, we don’t think mental health services belong in the schools at all.  It is not the schools’ job and the logistics of how these services would even work remain unanswered.  Where in the world will a school find an environment that is confidential and sound proof for an uninterrupted therapy session?  As a mom of four boys, I can assure you that nurses’ offices are not that environment.  Another question is where all those providers are going to come from.  Have hundreds of therapists agreed to participate in providing on-line therapy services in a school setting?  The physicians I’ve spoken to have not had a positive response to this idea:  One of them said, “I wouldn’t touch this with a 10-foot pole.”  Another said, “This is a HIPAA violation waiting to happen.”

There are just too many unknowns in this bill and unknowns are dangerous when it comes to our kids.  I appreciate that Sen. McGill intends to amend her bill to address those unknowns and I look forward to seeing those changes confirmed in writing.  On behalf of the Nebraska Family Forum, I urge you to vote against bringing LB 556 out of committee until all concerns are clarified and addressed.