Saturday, August 3, 2013
Another NFF member observes Douglas County "truancy" court
On Monday, July 29, NFF member Stacy Ryan observed “truancy” court at the Douglas County Courthouse. Stacy has a law degree, but attended merely as a concerned parent and citizen of our county. These are her observations, comments, and opinions, in her own words:
“I attended the truancy "party" on Monday. I say party because the number of times they said "We invited you,” was about five. They "invited" these families to this meeting; if you are a radar kid they might "invite" you to come back and talk to the county attorney. They also started the program by saying "Thank you for coming.” Comments like this infer that attendance was voluntary and they are there for a casual meeting and sincerely offering help."
At least 100 people in that room. Standing room only by about 3:35 PM.
I found it curious that there were no teachers/principals or representatives from the schools present. If you get a speeding ticket and the cops don't show you can have your ticket dismissed. The state needs a witness. Apparently if they "invited" you to this you are de facto "guilty"?
After they explained that if you are a radar kid or a kid who needs diversion they added that, "We have not looked at all your files. We don't know your story." If they don't know your story how did they decide between labeling you a radar kid or a diversion kid?
The woman in charge explained that the people present might wonder why they were there because it’s summer. She explained that they have a "backlog" of cases and this was the first opportunity to "invite" them all there.
She explained that rather than filing a court case they "investigate" and decide whether to file. I'd like to know what their "investigation" entails since they admit they do not know everybody's story. HOW did they decide who to keep there?
She claimed diversion is voluntary. But they might feel the need to take it to court so it was to the families’ benefit to tell their story to them.
I was shocked that it was announced that someone from probation was present to do urine analyses on children. If a parent wanted to take advantage of that "we can set that up for you." Are they offering to put your kid on probation??
Following is a list of different “service providers” present and what they offer: Career counseling, mentoring, college credit, provide an advocate, tutoring, "help" for those struggling in school, they will identify the "barriers" to consistent attendance, therapy, they will meet at their homes or schools, behavioral issues, help and support for "anything". By the way what does this cost and who's paying?
After the speeches from the providers, the radar kids could leave. About 35 names were called off and they all headed for the door. I saw maybe two families go back to talk to the providers. Most people wanted the heck out of there.
There was a family near the back with about five little kids. I sat in back closer to this family and there was another family (two parents and a boy around age 11) in the very back a few seats from the woman with the kids. Grandma and Mom were trying to deal with a crying toddler and the other kids. The man with the 11-year-old at one point leaned over and said very loudly to the struggling Grandma and Mom: "Shut the ****ing kid up!" (this same family was let go and as he passed me he said loudly "Let’s get the **** out of here.”
About 5-10 minutes later Deputy County Attorney Jordan Boler came to the Mom and Grandma (instead of calling them up front) and said she'd get them out of there because "You have your hands full." Since they were really close to me, I could hear what Boler was telling them. Boler made her pitch offering services and got out the two-part form I saw they used with everybody. She wanted a good phone number for them, she wanted their agreement, she wanted to set up a future appointment. She offered that "They can come to your house.” Mom went along with it all. It appeared that the oldest child who looked to be about 7-8 was the diversion kid (she had pretty small children, I thought the MOM might have been the student). At one point Boler looked at the 8-year-old diversion boy and said, "You are struggling? I know…we'll get you out of here."
A boy about 16 went up with his Mom. They were Hispanic, there was an interpreter nearby and Boler talked to them too. The boy at one point expressed he didn't want their services. Boler was repeating what he said. "What happens if you refuse?" She explained that they would then have to decide whether to take it to court. The kid didn't want to agree and then Boler suggested that he could go sit down and "think about it.”
It actually took me about three cases to understand that the kids who had to stay were right then and there agreeing to diversion and services. In the beginning it sounds like they are there to "help" them so it is not real clear that "help" means you agree to services which means you agree to be put on diversion. I do not think the parents understand what they are getting into when they sign those forms put under their noses.
The last couple I watched sat in front of me. Very quiet, very respectful. When they were called up, they listened intently to the prosecutor (a blonde girl named Cara). The couple had a girl who was about eleven years old. Dad talked intently to Cara after Cara went thru her schpeel. I can't say for sure but it appeared he said something about wanting to handle their child themselves as far as services. They did not sign anything. After a long speech by Cara and the dad talking, the mom asked, "What happens next?" and Cara mentioned court in a long, roundabout way. It appears to me they don't want to be direct with these parents maybe because face-to-face confrontation isn't anyone's idea of fun. But when they present their services and form to the parents they ought to be required not to sugar coat it so the parents "get" that they are letting the government into their lives when they sign that form.
After observing “truancy” court, several things bothered me:
- Cattle call forum. But, if you complain that this should be private what will they say/do to these families and no one can watch?
- HIPAA issues. It’s nobody's business if you do want services for your kid. People telling their story in a loud room with three other prosecutors talking to others, interpreters repeating everything and chit chat going on the whole time. If you want to you can listen though. These parents are forced to talk to these prosecutors with their child in front of a bunch of other people. Having to explain asthma or ADHD or any medical issue shouldn't be done in this forum. A young kid can feel badly that their medical or mental issue is getting Mom and Dad in trouble. In my opinion, those issues are none of the court’s business.
- No school reps there to provide support to the claim that each kid missed 20 or more days of school.
- Time it took to do this. Why are they wasting the time of the families of the 40 kids they labeled radar kids, and making them come down there only to let them go after they are forced to listen to these providers? It’s got to cost them something too...I couldn't get a parking spot because of all the construction, not the easiest place to get into. So you either plug a meter and hope this doesn't take more than 2 hours or pay to park across the street. People likely took off work as well.
- No lawyer present for the families so that they could understand what they were signing (double edge sword there). A lawyer isn't necessarily a good thing but it’s clear to me the parents don't know their rights, they are led to believe this is "voluntary" but they are then coerced because if they do not agree to the services they will be taken to court.
- Sing-songy attitude by the prosecutors claiming they "invited" everybody makes one think this is voluntary. They say the word voluntary. This is NOT voluntary. They aren't real clear in the beginning that if you don't agree they will be going to court. They don't make this clear until the families meet one on one with the prosecutor. THEN sometimes they got around to telling them they go to court if you don't agree. The mom with all the kids was not told that court is what happens if she won't agree. That mom just went along with it likely because she did have her hands full, she'd been cussed at by another parent and she wanted out of there! She signed off almost immediately.
- What does the form say that they are signing?
- What are these "appointments" the prosecutor sets up with the families signing the forms? A court date? Another “invitation”? A private meeting? They don't explain to the parents (unless the form says what it is). Jordan Boler would say: "Let's set up an appointment." She specifically set up September 4th at 3:30 with one family, which led me to believe it’s another "invite" to this cattle call meeting.
I'd like to get a copy of the form and I'd like to see the "invite" that came to all these families "inviting" them to attend.
I'd love to meet someone who believes this helped their child.
I will be attending more truancy "parties”, even though nobody "invited" me.
Posted by Brenda Vosik at Saturday, August 03, 2013