Thursday, May 9, 2013

Prosecutors or Parents? One Family's Experience in Truancy Diversion

When the Garrity family was sent to truancy diversion due to the absences and tardies of their autistic son, it was an eye opening experience for them.

Although she was upset about her son having to participate in diversion, even though his absences were due to mental health issues covered in an I.E.P., Michelle Garrity was even more troubled by what she witnessed in the diversion sessions.  Here is her account.

“There were approximately 25 to 30 families at the April 25th diversion session, which was held in a courtroom at the Douglas County Hall of Justice.  A good majority of the families needed a Spanish speaking interpreter, so those families were moved to the other side of the room.  All the families sit in rows of chairs and the assistant county attorneys sit at two tables in the front of the room.  They come around with a list and you give them your name.  They check you off the list, and then you sit and wait for your name to be called.  When your name is called, you go up to the table and stand in front of the county attorneys.  Nothing is private, you can hear everything.  Every personal issue regarding your child and your family is discussed in front of all those strangers.

“Some of the children are sent out of the room to have a drug test.  When I asked the Region VI representative why some kids were submitted to drug tests, she said it was to confirm if they needed drug counseling.

“All of the assistant county attorneys are very young.  The one assigned to our case, Sarah Graham, was particularly young and she was brand new, so she had another attorney standing behind her, coaching her on what to say.  She asked my son what his summer activity plans were, which I thought was crazy.  That is personal family business and has nothing to do with diversion.  But I just told her that he was taking guitar lessons and continuing with his counseling.  Ms. Graham clearly didn’t know what to do with our situation and I can see why—my son doesn’t belong in truancy diversion.  He has mental health issues, he’s not truant.

“During this same session, one of the young prosecutors, Cara Stirts, asked a family what activities they were planning to put their children in during the summer.  When the family responded that they didn’t have anything lined up, the prosecutor ordered them to get their kids signed up for activities such as the Boys and Girls Club, and report back to her in June about those activities.  She also ordered the child to get his grades up.

“Even more disturbing was the treatment of a Mexican family who was there that day.  This family had a young daughter who appeared to be about 12 or 13 years old.  The mother brought her own interpreter since she spoke no English.  Initially, the child was praised by the prosecutor because she was doing so much better.  She hadn’t missed anymore school and her grades had improved.  However, when the prosecutor, Ms. Stirts, asked the mother what their plans were for the summer, and the mother responded that they were going to Mexico to visit family, the prosecutor informed her that they would have to cancel their trip because the daughter has to attend summer school.  The prosecutor ordered the family to report back in June.  This order effectively put a halt to the family’s summer plans because the diversion contract, which each family is required to sign before leaving, states if the contract is broken, the County Attorney can choose to file against the family in Juvenile Court.

“I was so disturbed by the way these families were treated.  It was as if the young prosecutors thought their job was to parent these kids.  But these children already have parents!   I didn’t know assistant county attorneys had the power to order a family to cancel their summer vacation, to put their child in summer school, to sign up their children for summer activities and to get better grades.  I thought those were parental decisions.  I am afraid that pretty soon these assistant county attorneys will be trying to dictate the personal decisions in our family, even though they have no idea the challenges our family faces every day with an autistic child.  That’s why I decided I needed to tell someone about what’s really going on in diversion court.”


  1. rick vosikMay 09, 2013

    Wow. Sounds like a police state. That is ridiculous.

  2. This needs to be shared with every state senator in the Nebraska Legislature. They need to right this horrific wrong, because each is responsible for unleashing this monster on Nebraska families and children.