Saturday, July 27, 2013

MAYNARD FAMILY UPDATE



Yesterday afternoon, Jonathon Stellar, Deputy County Attorney from Deuel County, contacted Darla Maynard to let her know that the truancy charges against her son, Lucas, were being dismissed.  We are happy and relieved for the Maynards!

Mrs. Maynard’s account of the conversation with Mr. Stellar is quite interesting.  According to Mrs. Maynard, Mr. Stellar did not seem to accept any responsibility for the error made in filing truancy charges against a little boy with all excused absences.  Rather, he blamed the school district, claiming they “don’t understand the law” and therefore referred Lucas Maynard to the county attorney in error.

That is certainly an interesting diversion of blame.  Granted, the school district apparently didn’t understand that the amended law no longer required them to turn in every child at 20 days.  That is a problem the district will have to correct, but nothing that I have heard indicates to me that this referral was made out of anything other than confusion about the law.  The school district isn't completely blameless in this situation, but I will make this comment:  This is what happens when the schools become an extension of law enforcement.  These are educators, not police officers or prosecutors.  Interpreting law shouldn't be in a principal's job description, just like dealing with absenteeism shouldn't be in a county attorney's job description.  Our state has co-mingled these two functions, to everyone's detriment.

The real question is:  What is the county attorney’s excuse for filing these false and frightening charges?  What part of the law doesn’t he, the enforcer of that law, understand?  The school principal is not the one who accused Lucas of being a “juvenile who is habitually truant from home or school and deports himself in a manner so as to injure or seriously endanger the morals or health of himself or others.”  That was the county attorney who filed those charges, and he has no one but himself to blame.  The county attorney has complete discretion over whether or not any given charge will be filed.  He was provided with a letter from Lucas’s principal, which was even attached to the Maynards’ summons, in which she stated that all of Lucas’s absences were legitimate and that she was only turning him into the county attorney “under obligation of law.”  Indeed, the principal made a mistake, but what happened next was an even more egregious error.  The person who made the bigger mistake is the individual who is actually in charge of enforcing the law that he apparently doesn’t understand.  And who pays the price for that misunderstanding?  The same people who have been paying the price for this terrible law from day one:  Innocent children and families.

According to Mrs. Maynard, the deputy county attorney also seemed perturbed about the number of people who became involved in this situation, from the NFF to the press to a state senator.  He told Darla that if she would have just come to him instead of calling "all those other people," they could have worked it out.  As the discussion continued, Darla got a clearer understanding of what he meant when he said they could have “worked it out.”  Apparently his idea of working it out meant that the Maynards would hire an attorney, enter a plea in court on August 14, then return a month later for trial, where they would be found not guilty because, of course, their son was never truant in the first place.

Seriously, this is his idea of “working it out?”  First we’ll file false charges and scare your child half to death, then you can fork over a couple thousand dollars for an attorney, come to court three times, share personal information with strangers, have a guardian ad litem assigned (at taxpayer expense) to look after the “best interests” of your own child, and then, voila!  These charges will go away.  No big deal, no harm done, we’ve “worked it out.”  Right?  Wrong!  That is NOT the way our system works.

County attorneys aren’t our friends.  We don’t call them up and say, “Hey, buddy, you made a mistake and accidentally filed such serious charges against us that we might lose our child.  So let’s work it out, OK?”  Smiles all around. 

No.  A county attorney’s job is prosecuting criminals and recommending punishment.  Innocent and guilty people alike have a healthy fear and respect for county attorneys, as they should.  I can’t imagine a situation where it would be a good idea to call up a prosecutor and try to “work things out,” and I’m certain no defense attorney would advise any citizen to try this tactic!

The fact of the matter is, the Maynards did try to work it out, the legal way.  They came to court without an attorney in good faith, assuming a mistake had been made and the charges would be dismissed.  They brought their evidence, including the letter from the principal and their doctor’s notes.   But there was no “working it out” to be done.  Instead, their son was separated from them and compelled to sit between two strangers – a prosecutor and a guardian ad litem – while a judge told him he was a danger to the morals of himself and others and that he might be removed from his home.  His parents were not given an opportunity to speak or present their evidence.

In the Maynards’ case, there is plenty of fault to go around, and none of it lies with the Maynards:

  1. Our state legislature is at fault for passing such a terrible law.
  1. Senator Brad Ashford is at fault for writing this law and staunchly supporting it, in spite of full knowledge of the harm it is causing innocent families.  He is at fault for using his position as chairman of the Judiciary Committee to kill a reasonable amendment which would have cracked down harder on real truants, while protecting non-truant children.
  1. The school district is at fault for not understanding the amended law and turning over a child who had all excused absences.
  1. The Deuel County Attorney is at fault for filing charges against an innocent child.
The finger pointing in Deuel County happens throughout the state, as well.  Here in Douglas County, we’ve got a five-ring circus of schools, county attorneys, GOALS team leaders, legislators, and judges all blaming each other for how the law is being implemented.

So let’s get real here.  It’s not the way the law is being implemented.  The fact of the matter is, IT’S A BAD LAW AND IT NEEDS TO BE REPEALED.  We can’t make this law “better.”  We are three years into this and IT’S NOT WORKING.  Innocent families are still being attacked, children are still being harmed, public officials are still in denial, hundreds of thousands of dollars are still being spent.

And guess what?  Nobody – NOBODY – knows how or if this law is affecting truancy.  If you hear public officials say that the law is “working” because truancy is down, they are not telling the truth.  If they present “statistics” showing that truancy is down, don’t believe them!  The truth is, no one is measuring truancy; they are measuring attendance.  Sure, attendance is up statewide by about 1.5%.  (1.5% !  That’s IT!)  But the NFF suspects attendance is up because families like the Maynards are being terrorized into sending their children to school when they shouldn’t be there.  Families with legitimate absences are being put into diversion and forced to sign “contracts” to increase attendance under threat of law.  You bet, attendance is up.  But at what cost?

2 comments:

  1. In the first year of this law truancy filings at the county attorney's office in Douglas county went from 250 to 3500. We were told casting a wide net like this was needed to address a "truancy" crisis in Nebraska -- 7% of Nebraska students were missing school 20 or more days (excused absences included) -- Was this really a crisis? A crisis worthy of hoarding kids into the legal system or creating a systematic plan for intervening in family life? After all 93% of all Nebraska students missed fewer than 20 days of school each year.

    So what have we done to address this 7% crisis and raise attendance by 1.5% (most likely among students who were never at risk of failing in school or life)? We've paraded innocent kids and their families through the legal system and scared them half to death (before dismissing the cases). We've begun micro-managing family life, used attendance as an excuse to make kids wards of the state, jailed parents, and removed kids from the custody of their parents.

    How much will it take for the Governor and the NE legislature to have the courage to admit they made a terrible mistake? How many more innocent children will suffer before they have the motivation to repeal this disastrous law? It is shameful that elected representatives of the people of Nebraska have let it go on this long!

    Senator Tony Fulton offered up
    the solution to this issue, the solution that would protect the innocent and address REAL truancy. That legislation is still waiting on the table ready to solve the problem. We simply need a senator with the principles to take that legislation back to the floor and get it passed.

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  2. This article is the best summary of the reality of this law I have ever read, next to Richard Wexler's sidebar report from 2012.

    http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2012/05/nccpr-report-truancy-sidebar.html?m=1

    This blog post should be submitted to Huffington Post and other national media.

    ReplyDelete