Friday, August 16, 2013

Letter to Gov. Heineman and Sen. Ashford from Ann Summers


SENT TO:  Gov. Dave Heineman, Brad Ashford, and Omaha Public Schools Superintendent Mark Evans

The policies governing truancy in Nebraska must be changed. How long will you, our elected officials, allow policies to excuse those who abuse your people? Is there no limit to the confusion and pain this law can cause? Does the the accumulation of cases in our county attorneys’ offices mean nothing to you, nothing also our taxpayer money flowing into a burgeoning number of cases, nothing our families’ struggles to educate their sick children, nothing our people’s dislike of big government, nothing the disproportionate ill-treatment of those with little financial resources, nothing the pleading of those you claim to protect here in Nebraska?

Education policies may govern or punish. All evidence gathered by the Nebraska Family Forum shows that these so-called truancy policies are resulting in punishment and worse, gross miscarriages of justice and flagrant over-reaching actions by school administrators and county attorneys and court appointed officials. It is being used to punish those who follow the rule of sending their children to school, as stated in statute 79-201: “each day that such school is open and in session, except when excused by school authorities or when illness or severe weather conditions make attendance impossible or impracticable.” Amendments have capped absent-limits, and gone on to require school districts to have a policy in place to deal with “excessive absenteeism” and yet, there is confusion and misapplication. I believe “turn em in and let the courts sort em out” is an unwritten policy, and when cases are given scrutiny and the light of day, it often seems that the only thing made clear is a great deal of finger-pointing.

In that travesty of “fixing” turning sick children into criminals, known as LB933, nothing has been fixed, and nothing made clear. Why are charges of criminal truancy still being leveled against excused absentees? My heart bursts each time I read one of these cases of sick children, desperate parents, and uninformed, if not disingenuous civil advocates. So I ask you gentlemen: as public servants, elected to serve the people, how long will you allow them to be punished and harassed for perfectly normal behavior? The whole policy needs to be reworked from the beginning.

Not only is this problem worse and bigger than lawmakers and enforcers are ready to admit, but you, its supporters, are missing a golden opportunity to do something real and meaningful for education policy in Nebraska. Instead of making enemies of your constituents and their children, you could offer actual solutions. Instead of pouring money into county services and diversionary tactics after the fact, you could offer help to families before their situation  becomes critical. I am sure there are many things I don’t understand about the cash flow and the restrictions on how money is directed into these programs, but ask yourself this: which is cheaper in health care, health maintenance or triage and hospitalization?
We are using triage in education to fix problems (heck, the GOALS memo even calls it triage) that could be managed much more cheaply. As a result we have poor attendance, poor performance, and underfunded districts. The “patient” is in constant crisis, and still, with all the dollars we throw at education, the National Council of Governors for major US cities claims that even if all the people in their workforce were offered a job, they would not have the education or skills to fill it. Statistics indicated that we stink at math and science, and it’s only getting worse. In Nebraska, our standards (as compared nationally and world-wide) produce “great results” because our expectations are so miserably low. So how is all this money helping? It helps keep kids in school, but does it educate anyone? And, oh, we are talking about a lot of money.... As you are reading the story below, collected recently by NNF members, try a simple exercise: try to keep a running total of all the billable hours of all the officials who appear in this one story out of thousands, and weigh that against the time, trouble, and heartache yet another family has gone through. Imagine what we could do if we used that cash to help kids learn.

 It should be understood, gentlemen, that I exempted my own children, with many a tear and prayer, from the public school system, and I now instruct them myself. I use the local homeschooling communities, the public library, some homeschool materials and the internet, the great democratizer, to help my children learn. As a result, I set my own schedule, they read and learn whether they are sick or well, and they study Latin and Greek and English grammar and math all summer. I am not rich nor am I particularly brilliant. With the support and help of many faith-based groups who laid the way plain for me, I have met home educators and families whose tales are now documented on the NFF, who attempted to make school systems work for them—overall a vast and diverse group of people. And I have found a very curious thing. I find consensus among people where you would never expect to see it. I see ultra-conservatives, religious folks, libertarians, right-wingers and left-wingers, atheists, traditionalists, and progressives all nodding their heads and agreeing that our school system here in NE is just one more example of big government gone completely out of control. Perhaps this has something to do with Senator Ashford’s unsuccessful mayoral bid. If you don’t understand how messed up things still are, listen to this report of diversion court by a conscientious observer:

My advice is that you, Senator Ashford and you, Governor Heinemen, work with our legislators and appoint a multi-disciplinary education task force and begin to explore the possibilities of using technology to fill the people resource gap and to better track what children are learning and find new ways to help them learn so they can win in life. How much more useful this would be than recording minutes their bottoms were in a certain GPS location and prosecuting those who have trouble keeping them there. Perhaps if we give people who are struggling some options, not just punishment, some understanding, not just enforcement, it will help Nebraskan children and families be proud of their education system and have them fighting to get in instead of fighting against it. And you know what, gentlemen? You could both be heroes, because instead of riding the downward curve like Detroit and its ilk, and watching as the learning and family life is legislated out of every classroom in the country, you could make the first real effort to fix public education. You could be the guys who took a suffering state full of underachievers and turned it into another Vermont, at the top of the list. I know a lot of folks who would vote for those guys.  

Thank you, 
Ann R. B. Summers
Omaha, NE


  1. Very well said Ann Summers and many of the thoughts that have been running through my own mind but didn't know how to express. Praying that these men will open their eyes, ears and hearts and listen to the voice of reason that so many like Ann that have been speaking out on this law.

  2. Laura McCormickAugust 16, 2013

    I could not agree more, Ann. The law was written by a long time bureaucrat, who happens to be a lawyer by trade. He treats citizens who come to his office with disdain and disrespect. He has no time to listen to the perspectives of those who are concerned about the intrusion of the state into family affairs. The schools and parents should have a special relationship built upon cooperation, respect, and trust.

    Inviting the state, via the County Attorney, into families lives does nothing but promote distrust and anxiety. It drives a wedge into the parent/school partnership. NO one approaches a meeting with the County Attorney with anything but anxiety and concern, and legitimately so.

    We live in a state where citizens value commitment to family, hard work, self sufficiency, and education. This law is a BAD law. Mr. Ashford is well aware of that fact. Mr. Ashford, please consider rectifying this expensive monstrosity of a law.