Saturday, September 28, 2013

Never Mind That He's Sick: The Marlowe Family's Story

Christopher Marlowe lives in Butte, Nebraska where his son attends West Boyd Public Schools.

My kids' mom and I are divorced and live different lives and in different parts of the state.  We are still friends and cooperate well for child rearing.  Our daughter lives with her and our son lives with me.   Our daughter has a few sick days every year but not enough to be a problem.  Our poor son has pushed the limit or been over ever since entering public school.

My son entered public school in the third grade when his mother moved to the city.  He had previously been home schooled.  He was with her at the time.  He came to live with me here on the farm at the start of his freshman year .  He is now a junior.  The farm is definitely more his environment than the city was.

The school here has, for the most part, been a positive experience.  The increasingly strict truancy laws have created the most stress in our lives. That was true both when he lived with his mother and here as well.  The poor kid catches every bug that comes along.  He gets plenty of sleep and eats a well balanced diet.  Much of the food is raised right here on the farm  and during the growing season, vegetables are often freshly picked just before meal time. He works hard with me on non-school days but I usually let him sleep as much as he needs to.  Friday and Saturday nights, unless there is a football game, he's with dad.  So, I'm confident that nutrition and sleep are adequate.

To complicate the matter, school has typically come hard for my son and that has made it stressful.  Stress in turn fuels illness.  (Periods of high stress actually cause the immune system to shut down making the body wide open to infection.)  To complicate things even further, as I've previously mentioned,  we live on a farm out in the country and the country roads aren't always open as fast as the highways are.  So, school may be in session but we physically can't get there.  I've been snowed in a week at a time a few times throughout the years. Without power a couple of those and without phone or internet a couple of times as well.  We heat with a wood cook stove so we stay warm and well fed with or without power.

Our school's policy is 8 days per semester instead of the state's 10.  Best I can tell that's to discourage kids and parents from missing and leave some cushion room.  They also seem to like to provide ample verbal reminders of the "need to be in school."  They come across as hard and insensitive, but having read the law in full, I think it is their way of trying to keep kids from hitting that 10 day mark.

Virtually every time I call him in sick, the secretary reminds me that he needs to be in school. As if we didn't know that, and for that matter, I need to be at work, not home taking care of a sick kid!  If he misses a second day, and definitely by a third day, they are pushing for a doctor's visit and note.  Freshman year he had a bit of flu and I had to take him in for the doctor's note.  The doctor prescribed something and I'm sure that helped but he would have recovered on his own too.  We pushed the maximum number of sick days each semester last year.  When my son gets sick he is sick.  He's running high fevers and sleeping.    As I mentioned, most every time I called him in I got a reminder that "he needs to be in school."  Never mind that he's sick.

Last spring, his mother and I discussed withdrawing and homeschooling him to both break the illness cycle and to better tailor a curriculum to his learning needs.  Our son then made the decision that he wanted to play football so we passed on the homeschooling for the time. The school year no sooner started and he got sick with something or another.  Second week of school he missed that Friday. He perked up some over the weekend and went to school on Monday. The temperature got up to 100' on Monday and the school had football practice in that heat. He came home really sick from it.  I had to keep him home from school on Tuesday.  The secretary of course told me, "He needs to be getting over that.  Maybe you should take him to the doctor."  I told her in no uncertain terms that "he perked up over the weekend and got really sick practicing in that 100' heat yesterday."  The only reply was, "Hopefully he gets to feeling better."

Wednesday he went to school.  Drug through the whole day.  Thursday he collapsed and I had to keep him home.  Friday he drug through school.  It was Memorial Day weekend.  He perked up Saturday morning and did good until about 4:00 Sunday afternoon.  It just hit.  He ran a 102-105' fever for the next 36 hours. He slept most of that time.  Monday night it seemed to be getting worse and I was getting kind of scared.  I stayed up with him until 3:00 in the morning, forcing him to drink fluids and keeping an ice pack on him. About 3:00 the fever finally broke and I went to bed myself.

Tuesday, I called and told the school I would take him to the doctor.   The doctor said it looked like Bronchial Pneumonia but was hard to know for sure as there were several bugs/viruses going around with similar symptoms. The doctor prescribed an antibiotic and a couple of other things, and school and football practice as tolerated.  My son slept the rest of the day and the rest of the week too.  The doctor's note prescribing "school as tolerated" was not sufficient for the school.  My son returned to school on the following Monday but only made it three periods. The school nurse called me that day and flagged me down when  I picked my son up. Both times she commented "that 'walking' pneumonia should only take a couple of days to get over. You might want to get him back to the doctor to see if something else is going on."   I tried to pin her down on what she needed for documentation but only got ambiguous answers and a repeat of "getting him to the doctor again."

So, Tuesday morning we took the drive down to Lynch again to see the doctor.  The doctor wasn't able to do anything for my son but he did order up chest xrays and a full battery of blood work.  He also provided a detailed note and prescribed half days for the next week until we could meet for a follow up appointment.  He added to the note that it would take more than a few days to recover from.  The school was pleased with the documentation; they did, however, want him in school longer.  I had a brief meeting with the principal and superintendent and told them that we could try 3/4 days instead as long as whoever was working with him kept a close eye on him and called me to pick him up if he seemed to be starting to fade.  They agreed and were very good about it.

The following Wednesday, we had a follow up appointment with the doctor.  My son was much improved.  The blood work had all come back and other than the current illness and a little extra weight showed a very healthy young man.  We never were able to pinpoint the exact illness but the doctor maintained that it was most likely Bronchial Pneumonia brought on by practicing in 100' heat. Basically as I understood it the heat combined with the increased respiration from practice caused his body to ingest a lot of allergens -- causing pneumonia to develop and then his body had in turn to expel all of that.

In fairness to the school, once we established that he was really sick with documentation they were really good about working with him. My son's energy flow during his half days coincided with his core classes.  He was able to go a little longer and the school used that time to first get him caught up in math. The principal herself, a math teacher by trade, rearranged her afternoon duties to personally tutor him and even came in on a Saturday morning as well.  Once math was caught up they then used that time to catch up in English, history and Ag.  He's also in Journalism and Woodshop and in those classes they are simply letting him move forward.  This was his first week of full days. He had yesterday off for conferences. Everybody was really positive and real accommodating.  Still, we had several reminders of how important it is to keep him healthy and in school.  What can you say besides "We'll do our best!"

I do have some reluctance in publishing this.  All of the folks involved are our neighbors and friends.  And, that is part of the reason I have gone ahead and done this writeup of our experience. The current truancy laws in Nebraska place a great deal of stress on the schools as well as us parents and need to be modified to be more accommodating of illness, weather and other days families feel it is necessary for a child to miss a day or two.  It seemed to be lost upon them, but essentially taking a month off of school to care for a sick child is not something every parent can easily do. I was fortunate to be able to do so.  While the farm is an important part of our livelihood, most of my living is generated off farm with a small construction business.  I was very fortunate to have a job going close to the school that I could work on half days.  I more typically  work in O'Neill, which is 50 minutes from home and 35 minutes or so from the school.

As a post note I would encourage every family in Nebraska that can do so to consider home schooling.  Nebraska's home school laws are some of the most accommodating in the country.  It's a fairly simple application that you fill out and send into the state.  The state even notifies the school district for you!  Especially convenient if you have finished a school year and plan to home school in the fall.  Parents worry about not having the time to home school. There are several self paced, self taught curriculums out there. There are even free curriculums available.  I was planning to purchase the Robinson Curriculum which is a self paced curriculum and not very expensive. If one parent is working from home or you are the business owner than it is a definite possibility.

-Christopher Marlowe, Butte Nebraska

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Letter from Vaughn Crowell to State Senator Rick Kolowski

Letter from NFF member Vaughn Crowell to his state senator, Rick Kolowski, in regard to the damage inflicted on the Crowell family by Nebraska's "excessive absenteeism" law and Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth Crnkovich.

Sep. 22, 2013

Senator Rick Kolowski
District 31
Room# 1528                                                                           
State Capital Building
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 86509
Dear Senator Kolowski:

No doubt you grow weary of my correspondence as do I grow weary of the effort. Nonetheless, as a constituent, I have the right and responsibility to bring my message to you as do you have the burden to listen. For months now, I have been vigilant in my effort to affect some form of justice in response to the egregious misuse of authority perpetrated against my family by multiple layers of officials and agencies which should serve as checks and balances to the others, but which appear instead to be working together, without any sense of ethics or accountability to the public apart from the integrity and candor of a select few to whom I am grateful.

I have continuously kept you informed about what we are experiencing. And, as our state senator, we turn to you for some sense of relief and support. Perhaps we can find some common ground as fellow Marines and seek ways toward meaningful progress.

As you are aware, I have filed three complaints to the Judicial Qualifications Commission regarding Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Elizabeth G. Crnkovich. My first two complaints have been dismissed by the Commission. My third complaint, dated July 27, 2013 is scheduled to be reviewed by the Commission on Oct. 4, 2013.

Briefly, for the benefit of those who may not know this story (or if memories need refreshing):

I received a Notice in Lieu of Summons to appear in court, my wife received no notice but went with me as a concerned parent. We went to court on May 5, 2011 to address an unwarranted truancy charge, which had been filed against our son by Deputy, Douglas County Attorney Jordan Boler. Our son had missed 20 days of school, but he was never "truant" from school or home. As his parent, I had given my permission for him to be absent.

We did not bring our son to court for legitimate reasons, but primarily because he had no legal obligation to be there. He is entitled by statute, as noted in the Notice in Lieu of Summons he received, to have a Summons served upon him and then a 72 hours period before he is required to appear in court. Judge Crnkovich had a different opinion, and in her agitation, she decided to have us arrested. My wife and I were handcuffed, like criminals, and we spent the day in jail.

As we were held in jail, (what I claim to be) a false and misleading affidavit was drafted by NDHHS's Initial Assessment Unit using information from a CPS Hotline call and delivered to the Douglas County Attorney’s Office. A deputy county attorney, again Jordan Boler, then used that affidavit to move the Court to approve immediate custody of our son. The petition stated that removal of our son was “a matter of immediate and urgent necessity for the protection of said child”. Of course, this wasn't true and in fact our daughter also named in the affidavit was not removed. This action by the Court, Douglas County Attorney’s Office and NDHHS was in its purest form a collaboration to punish my wife and I (clearly outside of the law) for standing up for our rights and for insisting our son was not “truant” and that we be given an opportunity to prove it to the Court.

Shortly after my wife and I were released from jail, an armed Douglas County Sheriff removed our son from our home. (You might recall the passion with which I spoke to you in your office last January 2013 about this event.) The next day, May 6, 2011, a different Juvenile Court Judge reversed everything that had been done the day before, denied the County Attorney’s request to make our son a ward of the State, and returned our son to our home and our custody. That same day, on the advice of our attorney and with our permission, our son quit high school. The County Attorney subsequently dropped the truancy charge. I hope you would agree that this accounting reveals a troubling series of events - on too many levels. Whatever systems of accountability we citizens are told exist for holding accountable those who violate the public's rights and trusts do not appear to be working as they should, and that is why I turn again, back to you - my representative.

More than two years later, my third complaint (filed July 27, 2013) against Judge Crnkovich has all the components needed to pass muster with the Judicial Qualifications Commission. My complaint has names, dates, witnesses and supporting documentation. My complaint has a letter under the signature of the Nebraska State Ombudsman with statements such as “In my opinion however, the real problem with [the] Affidavit is not in its factual representations, but instead is in the more fundamental fact it was ever drafted, signed and submitted at all.” and other statements such as “[NDHHS employee] was only a “worker bee” in a situation where other, far more powerful, players were giving directionsAnd lastly, “My ultimate conclusion about [the] Affidavit is that it is a document that should never have been executed. The case at hand simply did not support a conclusion that temporary foster care was “a matter of immediate and urgent necessity” and did not justify the filing an Affidavit for Removal of Minor Children from Parental Home”.

Now, the Court (through Douglas County Juvenile Court Judge Kelly - a person whom we believe has a conflict of interest in our case) - on its own initiative and about one week before my complaint is to be heard by the Commission - has made the untimely and questionable decision (nearly half a year after my son turned 19) to seal his records (a hearing is scheduled for 9-26-2013). Additionally, the Douglas County Attorney’s Office (in a notice under the signature of once again, Deputy County Attorney Jordan Boler, dated 9-16-13 (interestingly enough, Ms. Boler was not even in the Courtroom on May 5, 2011)) will offer no objection to the Court. I do not believe the burden of Justice and integrity of the Judicial Branch should fall upon the shoulders of my 19 year old son to offer an objection. I have offered my own objection to sealing these records until such time as testimony has been given to the Judicial Qualifications Commission. However, I have been informed I have no standing in this matter. I insist that I do have standing as do you Senator Kolowski in uncovering the inconvenient truth in this matter. 

This action serves only to add a layer of bureaucracy to the testimony that could be offered by the witnesses I name from both the NDHHS and County Attorney’s Office. With these records sealed, their testimony may never be heard by the Commission. My son gains nothing by sealing these records. He hasn’t been convicted of any crimes, status offences or any other unlawful activities. He has not entered any diversion, mediation, probation, supervision, or other treatment or rehabilitation program in lieu of being charged with anything. He has never failed to appear in court, and has nothing to hide.

I am very aware you have no direct jurisdiction over the Courts or the County Attorney’s Office. My complaint will work its way through the system and the Commission will either act on my complaint or dismiss it.

You do, however, have some control over the laws that created this situation. Passage of LB800 resulted in an over-reaching and abusive law, which guts the rights of parents and poorly addresses actual truant behavior. We are hearing of stories such as mine from across the state; heart-wrenching stories of intimidation, threats, violation of rights and invasion of privacy with county attorneys and school administration quickly pointing fingers at each other when we ask our senators for help in sorting out this quagmire.

Senator Kolowski, you asked in your last e-mail to me what you could do to help.

You can help by introducing or supporting legislation to repeal this horrendous law and restoring the traditional definition of truancy and the Nebraska parent's right and responsibility to care for our own children, including our authority to best determine when our kids should be excused or not excused from school for legitimate reasons. I believe several other senators are also looking into this problem - such as Sen. Schilz from Western Nebraska, Sen. Dubas, Sen. Coash, and Sen. Chambers. Perhaps you can discuss my experience with them and others.

Simper Fidelis,

Vaughn Crowell
15286 Blackwell Dr.
Omaha, NE 68137


Governor Dave Heineman
Nebraska Legislators
Nebraska Department of Education
Nebraska State Attorney General
Julie Rogers, Inspector General of Child Welfare
Nebraska Judicial Qualifications Commission
Douglas County Attorney’s Office
Douglas County Commissioners

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"She is Broken": Another innocent child is irreparably damaged by Nebraska's attendance law

Last month, NFF member Ann Summers stated in an impassioned letter to Gov. Dave Heineman and Sen. Brad Ashford, “My heart bursts each time I read one of these cases of sick children, desperate parents, and uninformed, if not disingenuous civil advocates.”

My own heart is bursting today after listening to yet another story of a sweet child with good grades from a loving and supportive family who has been irreparably harmed by Nebraska’s “excessive absenteeism” law.  This child has done nothing wrong; she only has the misfortune of having a chronic illness.  Yet she has been threatened, mocked, and bullied by the adults whom her parents trusted to educate her.  Never once has she been offered help with making up her assignments, she’s only been asked when she will be back at school, and reminded regularly of how many days she’s missed.  To the school district, her attendance matters more than her good character, her excellent grades, and her sweet personality--and she knows it.

As her mother told me yesterday, “She is broken.”

Today, as I have done many times in the past two years, I will help this mother fill out homeschooling papers.  Another family will flee our public schools to protect their sick child.

NFF parents, this must stop.  These schools are OURS, and they are for all of our children, including the ailing, the impoverished, the struggling.  Every attendance monitor, school counselor, social worker, and principal works for US.  Not vice versa.  The county attorneys and their young deputies assigned to truancy work for us too, and so do the juvenile judges who convict our sick children of crimes, remove them from their homes, and throw their parents in jail.  Yet school districts, county attorneys and judges across the state continue to use Nebraska’s atrocious (non)truancy law to bully, frighten, and threaten innocent children and families.

Listen up, Nebraska legislators, school officials, county attorneys and judges!  We are Nebraska voters, taxpayers and parents, and WE CAN NOT AND WILL NOT LET THIS STAND.

We will flood Lincoln with these children and families, we will speak to every senator, we will write letters and make phone calls and testify before committees, and we will not stop until this law is repealed. 

We will not stop, because no mother should have to pick up the pieces of a child who has been broken in the name of education.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

OPS Excused Absence Policy: Employees vs. Students

Omaha Public Schools Excused Absence Policy
Employees Compared to Students

Childhood diseases not requiring medical attention of a physician
Employees:  Excused with Pay*
                   *if sick time is available
Students:      Unexcused

Serious illness requiring medical attention
Employees:  Excused with Pay*
                    *Doctor's note may be required
Students:      Excused*
                     *Doctor's note is required or absence
                       is unexcused

Funerals of immediate relative, defined as spouse, parent, child, parent-in-law, brother, sister, son- or daughter-in law, grandparents, grandparents-in-law, grandchild, aunt, uncle, niece, nephew
Employees:  Excused with Pay*
                    *4 days pay, plus travel time for 200+ miles
Students:      Unexcused

Serious illness of immediate family members, as defined above
Employees:  Excused with Pay
Students:      Unexcused

Funeral of a close friend
Employees:  Excused with Pay
Students:      Unexcused

Weddings of family members
Employees:  Excused with Pay
Students:      Unexcused

Court summons and legal proceedings
Employees:  Excused with Pay
Students:      Unexcused

Graduations, ordinations, and similar ceremonies for immediate relatives, as defined above
Employees:  Excused with Pay
Students:      Unexcused

Transaction of personal business which cannot be arranged at a time other than school hours
Employees:  Excused with Pay
Students:      Unexcused

Personal Days
Employees:  Excused with Pay*
                     *up to 2 days per year
Students:      Unexcused

Possible consequences for absences in excess of 20 days per year

Loss of pay if employee does not have enough sick time accumulated

Referral to law enforcement
Misdemeanor charges filed
Monitoring by county attorney or CPS
Required to attend diversion
Removal from custody of parents

Gina Miller's statement to the Omaha Public Schools board

My name is Gina Miller.  I am a parent of two Omaha Public School children, a fifth grader and an eighth grader.
Since you invited me to attend, I have been trying to write an “opening statement.”  I have been struggling to have something succinct and meaningful so you “the District board” understand our, “the parents” issues, frustrations, anger about the attendance law, the district policy and the implementation of said law and policy.  I have written dozens of drafts.
I was talking to a good friend of mine about my struggle.  She heard me out, and then in a calm voice, and with much clarity, said “Gina, tell them you are afraid of them!”
That is it!  This law, and the way the districts across this state have been implementing this law, have made families and children afraid of their school system, the one place my child should feel the safest and the people I should be partnering with, not against.  This law, the district policy, and how it is applied have made us enemies, parents and children against all of you and those you represent.
Our family and my child live in fear daily that she is going to be turned over to law enforcement because she is sick?  How is that right? 
I have a child with a chronic illness.  I call her into school each time she is sick. I check with her teachers to see if there is anything she needs to make up, she has good grades, my husband and I are active engaged parents.  Why then does my child need to be asked by school officials at her locker, in the hall, in front of her friends, if she knows how many days she has missed?  Why does she get comments from school officials along the lines of “I heard you were sick yesterday, you look fine today.  Did you go to the doctor?”  They KNOW she was sick, I CALLED HER IN!
Why do I receive threatening letters and calls from SPA’s asking me why my child has “excessive absences”?  Have they even talked to my child’s school or her teachers?  They all know why she is missing school. Why am I once again, explaining to a stranger, that a chronic illness plagues my daughter. 
My child can not control her illness.  We have spent thousands of dollars and have seen a dozen specialists about her illness.  There is no cure at this point.  What I need is a school that is supportive of her illness and how they can support my child’s education so she doesn’t get behind.   Not why was she gone, and does she have documentation to prove it, because we the system don’t believe you, the parent.  I have never once been asked if there is anything the school can do to assist with the information she has missed. 
I work daily to keep my children out of the law enforcement realm…. We preach don’t drink and drive, don’t do drugs, be good..but my school system is telling her that if she is sick and misses school she will be sent to juvenile justice?  That seems to be the ultimate contradiction that no parent's mind, let alone a child’s mind, can get around.
I understand that you deal with a lot of challenging family situations.  I know there are serious problems in our community that keeps kids from attending school regularly.  What we are asking of you is to get out of the game of mistrust and finger pointing and get back to the game of education, get back to engaging with our students so they WANT to come to school, support our students that have difficult home situations, NOT INTIMIDATE them under threat of law to come to school.
The school policy should have EXCUSED absences written into the policy. Illness, funerals, religious observances, college planning trips, parents on military leave, family vacations, children with once in a life time opportunities (educational opportunities, dancing in the Macy’s day parade, etc..)..should be considered EXCUSED and not count against their total days absent. 
I have taken off work the last year to battle this problem.  I have made a sincere effort to understand all sides of this issue.  I and many of the people in this room have met with county attorneys, legislators, school boards, superintendents, doctors, parents.    I am a member of the Attendance Coalition to build programs that can assist kids who have barriers to coming to school, and build partnerships for the myriad of services this community already has to offer children. 
At the end of the day, I keep coming back to what are we trying to accomplish with an attendance policy?  It should be to balance the rights of parents and children and  at the same time provide quality education for our kids.  For the life of me, I can not understand how involving law enforcement can assist in that endeavor.  Even the Nebraska Supreme Court Chief Justice said in an Omaha World-Herald article that courts are the “most expensive and least flexible” way to deal with truancy.  He said courts should be reserved for the most difficult and unresponsive TRUANTS, while others should be handled through school interventions.     
This afternoon we are ready to discuss the history of the law, the details of the policy, the hundreds of thousands of dollars that have been poured into the district to create an entire industry to implement and monitor attendance.  You will hear from families that have been referred to law enforcement and their lives and their children’s lives forever changed.
We are asking you to revise OPS attendance policy so good kids and families are never referred to law enforcement.  We are asking that you implement a policy similar to Gretna’s or Millard’s, which I have included for your review..  Their policy respects families and parental authority while still providing consequences for kids who are TRUANT (absent without excuse). 
The abuse, intimidation and fear needs to stop. My hope is that you will understand our concerns and that we can come together as parents, educators and administrators and agree upon a common sense, child/ parent focused policy that takes into consideration the life events that happen daily to our kids. 
Thank you for your service, for organizing this workshop and for listening to our concerns.
After the remaining speakers, I will be happy to take any questions. 

Through the Eyes of a Child: Kylie Jackson's Story

Good evening, school board members. My name is Kylie Jackson and I am currently in 8th grade at Bryan Middle. I've come here tonight to shed a ray of light on my issues and struggles with the truancy law and the district-wide attendance policy, and how it has not only affected me, but my family as well.

To understand, you have to get to know me. During all my years in school, I have been practically a straight A student. I have never gotten a grade below a C, no matter how many days I've been absent from my chair at school. My parents and I are very responsible. Every time I have been absent from school over the years, no matter what, my parents have always called me in to school to tell them I am sick and they have always gotten me my missing work.  I was never far behind when I returned back to school. I'd do it and turn it back in. My education is very important to me. In the future, I want to graduate collage and get an amazing job, rather than flip burgers all day and ask people if they'd like fries with that for a living.

Let me start my tale a couple years back, during the 2010-2011 school year. I was in 5th grade, and my ultimate goal was to be an astronaut. (It's been my dream ever since I could spell the word, and it still is today.) My mom and I had tried for years to see a space shuttle launch down in Florida in person. Every time we tried, it failed. So when an opportunity arose in February of 2011 for one of the last shuttle launches in history, my mom and I snapped it up. Before I left school to go to Florida, my mom let the school know I would be gone and my teacher gave me my homework. I made it all up before we even left. This time, the launch was a success! I was beyond happy. I wrote an essay about my trip and my teacher even let me read it to the class when I came back home.

That same year in April, another amazing experience arose. My aunt had decided that she was going to have a family reunion, in the Bahamas! This was truly a once in a lifetime chance. My dad took me, and I had the time of my life. Once again, my mom told the school before I left and my teacher gave me my work. That was also made up before I left. I wrote a report on the Bahamas too, and got the chance to present it to my class once again.

There are other reasons I was gone too. I am probably the most contagious kid you'll ever know, I swear. (Don't worry though, I'm not sick right now.) The flu? Had it. A cold? Only every other week. Strep throat? Only had it about a billion times in my life. It seems like I'm always sick.

But there's another reason too. I'm different. Or so everyone says. I'm smarter than everyone. I don't have the looks like everyone else thinks they do. I don't dress like the girl I am. That automatically puts this big huge target on my back. I'm basically a bully punching bag. And the target? It never goes away. I'm not popular, so I don't have many friends. How would you feel if the people you worked with hated you? And every time they saw you, they threw little insults at you? I don't know if any of you can relate, but it's very hard to actually imagine unless you've had it happen to you. Truthfully, it's not a very pleasant experience. It's not a very good reason to miss school, I know. But when you've got to go to a place where all anyone ever does is shout at you and call you names, and you don't have anyone who smiles at you and waves, it's very hard to get up in the morning and go to that place. And it wasn't just kids that were bullies. Adults were bullies, too.

All together in the 2010-2011 school year, I missed 21 days. But during the year, I got those fantastic opportunities, ones that I could never get in the classroom! You can watch a shuttle launch on the TV, but it's nothing like in real life. Even though during those 21 days I wasn't at school, I was learning things school couldn't teach me. And I didn't fail school either. My grades? All A's and B's. I was on the Honor Roll all year long. I was successful because I am responsible and so are my parents.

Now let's skip just a little forward. School was out in May and I was happy that I was finally a top-dog 6th grader. I wasn't even out a month before one June afternoon, a letter arrived at my house in the mail. What was in this letter, you may ask? Well, this letter was not from school. It was from the Sarpy County Attorney's office. The letter stated basically that my absences were inexcusable, and that the school, district, and County Attorney would continue to monitor my attendance. That was upsetting, for me and my mom both. I didn't know what it meant, but it made me extremely uncomfortable. How would you feel if that letter showed up at your house?

Let's fast forward to the next school year, 2011-2012. This year was pretty normal, except my sister was getting married in Hawaii in November of 2011. But there was one little issue. Right off the bat that year, I'd been sick. I don't even think I had attended the first couple days of school. By the time my sister's wedding rolled around, I had missed more days than I should of so early in the year. My mom had to make a hard decision. If I went to Hawaii, I could possibly miss too many days of school during the rest of the year. Or, if I stayed home, I wouldn't have that issue. Due to the policy of the district and the state's law, I had to stay at home and miss my own sister's wedding. This didn't only upset me, but it made my mom and sister furious. It was not fair, at all. Could you imagine if this was you?

Then, in February of 2012, my mom, dad, and I traveled to Lincoln with the members of a group called the Nebraska Family Forum. Many of those same people are also here tonight. We spoke about an amendment to the truancy law. On that day, I was absent too. The experience I had that day when I was in Lincoln was another learning experience, something else I could never get in the classroom. There, I actually could speak my mind and I had a chance to change a problem with a law that was hurting more people than it should. 

Now let's skip ahead, once more, to last year. I am a 7th grader at Bryan Middle, and I'm still getting sick and being bullied. In early November, while having a typical day at school, I get a shock. I've only missed about 5 days of school, 4.82 to be exact. But instead of going to homeroom after my first class, I get thrown into what the school refers to as an "Attendance Meeting", and what I refer to as a "Living 30 Minute Nightmare." The school has 5 and 10+ day 'meetings'. But here's the funny part. We have to read the handbook the first week or so of school. We read over the Attendance Guidelines, plenty of times. NOWHERE did it say that there would EVER be an attendance meeting WITH ONLY counselors and multiple students at a time. Parents are not notified. However, when you arrive at the 5 day meeting, you are given a sheet of attendance guidelines. It is not the District Guidelines, but the school's guidelines on this sheet. 

These school guidelines you will never see, until you're actually hauled into this meeting. Also at the 5 day meeting, you are given a sheet to fill out that asks you a ton of questions about why you were absent and basically what you need to do to fix it. But what puzzles me is that, let’s say you have a family member die, and the funeral is out of state. Say you miss 5 days, and when you come back, you're thrown into a 5 day meeting. On the sheet, it asks you what you need to do to fix your absences. What do you write?

Now, at the 10+ day meeting, you're brought face to face with the Assistant County Attorneys, the SPA, school administrators, and school counselors. They come to school and actually sit down with us, (Again, not one on one, but in a huge group.) and tell us everything that could happen to us if we continue with what we are doing. The school still doesn't tell the parents.

Could you imagine? And for a kid like me, ever since I've gotten that letter in the summer of 2011, I've been traumatized. I went to both those meetings, crying, shaking, and hyperventilating. The worst part was that they acted like we didn't know what was going on. I knew a lot more about the law. I knew how many days I had missed. I knew what exactly for. It was upsetting and scary. After the 5 day meeting, I had to text my mom and tell her what had happened. I was 10 minutes late to my next class, and about as red as my face could have gotten. The meetings were purely informational for those people who had no clue. But for me, it was terror. It felt like intimidation. It felt like a scare tactic. If it wasn't, I'm not sure what is!

You've held this meeting tonight because you want to know how the community feels about this policy. I've told you my story. I've let you know how I truly feel. Now do you understand? This policy has not only hurt me, but my family, my friends, and everyone that is here tonight. The letters, the meetings, everything else. It's scary and it hurts. I've missed remarkable moments because of this. How would you feel if that was you? This policy is not fair. It is too broad. Some people actually have reasons for being absent. They're doing good things, they're learning outside of class. They're getting themselves ready for the future. This policy should catch the bad people. The ones who cut school to deal drugs and run the streets. Not people like me that are actually not there for a GOOD REASON! I hope you, the members of the school board, as parents, can find it in your heart to fix this policy as it should be.

Jackson Family Story

My name is Jeanne Jackson and my daughter Kylie attends an OPS middle school this year. 

Kylie has attended OPS since kindergarten.  In 5th grade (2010-2011) we ran into an issue with the truancy law. Like most kids, Kylie was absent some days from school that year due to illness. We had also experienced quite a few incidents of bullying and could not get it resolved through the school so some of the absent days were" mental health days".

In February 2011, Kylie and I had an opportunity to go to see one of the last Space Shuttle launches in Florida. We had been trying for years to see a launch and were never able to do so successfully. We took the trip in February, causing Kylie to miss school.  Before we left her teacher got all of her assignments for us. Two of the assignments were reports based on her trip. All of the other work was done before we left for Florida. Even though it was a very educational trip and her assignments were related, it still counted against her attendance. The school counselor called to let me know that Kylie was at 16 days absent for the year. At the time I did not know that the law had changed. She kept drilling me with questions about Kylie's absences and telling me that she would turn us in to the County Attorney if Kylie missed more days. This is when I found out that nothing was excused as an absence. I questioned her about things like weddings and funerals and was told that it all went towards the 20 days.

In March I received a letter from the school stating that Kylie had missed 7 days for the quarter. Confusing?? Yes to say the least.  Kylie also had the opportunity to attend a family reunion at the end of that year in the Bahamas. This took place in April. She again missed school for a few days due to the travel. She ended up with 21 days missed that year, not to mention a 3.5 GPA for the year. 

In June, after school was out, I received the letter from the Sarpy County Attorney office telling me I was referred by the school on April 29th for truancy and that my case was not being pursued but that we would be monitored and further action could be taken in the future if there was an issue with excessive absenteeism. It was frustrating to say the least that the communication from the school was really confusing, but then we are going to be “monitored" by the County????  I believe that I am a responsible parent and I do not need the school or the County to make decisions for my daughter.

In 6th grade, Kylie was ill close to the beginning of the year so she did miss a few days right up front. Her older sister was planning a destination wedding in Hawaii in November of that year. By this time I had discovered this wonderful group, The Nebraska Family Forum, and was more aware of this law and the damage it was doing to families throughout the State. I had to decide if I would be able to let Kylie go to the wedding. I troubled myself for quite some time with it and finally decided that I could not afford to take the chance of her missing that many days so early in the year. I had to keep her home from the wedding. It broke my heart and to this day I still could kick myself for doing it that way. This is the kind of thing that this law and the school system have not taken into consideration as being excused absences.

In February of 2012, I took Kylie out of school for the day to attend the hearing in Lincoln for an amendment to the truancy law. Although it did count as a day absent, it was the best decision I made. It was a wonderful educational experience for her to see how things work. (or how they are supposed to work) Kylie did get to share her story that day hoping it would help to make a difference. Although we did not get the change we had hoped for, there was a slight change made.

In 2012 Kylie began attending an OPS Middle school. We turned in notes from the dentist and doctor appointments we had and those were excused from her record. By the beginning of November she had been sick 5 days.

n November 2nd she was taken into a group attendance meeting with the counselors. All students who had missed 5 days were in this meeting. They were given a form to fill out asking questions as to why they were gone so much and what the students needed to do or were going to do so they would not be absent. Kylie was hysterical. Knowing what she did about this law, she did not understand why she was being made to feel like she did something wrong. She was sick. What could she do about that? She sent me a text and was extremely upset. I took my OPS district guidelines and went to the school. I had a meeting with the counselor and the Assistant Principal (Dean of Students) about the policy. I was given a printed out sheet of the attendance policy for this school. It was not the same as the district guidelines. She also had a handbook different than the guidelines I had. When I showed her the district book she told me that this was the handbook they used here at the school. I questioned why this sheet had not been included in the welcome packet and she told me it was not handed out until the 5 day meeting. ( I thought this sounded like she was trying to hide it) I was told that there are many kids who do not realize that they had already missed 5 days and it was more of an informational meeting. Nowhere on this sheet did it say anything about any other student meetings. I also asked if this was the only surprise meeting she would be taken into and was told that it would be. II was told that for future absences they would notify me by letter or phone.

I took Kylie out of school for a few extra days to spend Thanksgiving with her sister in Phoenix. I notified the school and we filled out the required paperwork. Later in the year when Kylie got to the 10 day mark she was pulled into another meeting. This time all of those who were absent 10 days were in this meeting. This also included the SPA (Student Personnel Assistant), the assistant Douglas County attorneys, counselors, Assistant Principals. How intimidating would this be??  I was furious!!  Where was the letter or call to the parent???  I contacted the SPA about this meeting. I was told that the school was setting it up and had invited him. Another "informational meeting".

By this time I had been lied to enough. I sent emails to the principal, a school board member and the superintendent. My issue was sent on to Matt Ray. He called me and we had a lengthy talk about the issue with the law and also the issue with the fact that the amendment gave the district the ability to have a list of things that were excused as absences. He was unwilling to consider things I had suggested as ideas, similar to those in the Millard district. I was told that even though there was a slight change in the law, OPS would be doing things the same as before. No excused absence without a doctor note and a referral to the County Attorney at 20 days regardless.  He said that if they agreed to make changes to their policy it would just let too many people abuse it. When I asked about the 10 day meeting with the assistant County attorneys he told me the schools usually have their own policies to deal with attendance.  WHAT????  So depending on what school you attend you get different treatment for your attendance?? It is bad enough that it varies in the Learning Community let alone within the district itself. 
I never did receive any response from Virginia Moon. I did get a call from the principal after the fact when I demanded that Kylie not be pulled into one more attendance meeting. He told me that her records were noted of this and that it would not happen again. When Kylie hit the 12 day mark I did receive the call from the SPA just to inform me. He was not going to send out the letter to me but I requested it for the record, just in case. After all that had happened in the past I did not trust any of them. This altercation has since caused a level of friction for us. Kylie is not at all comfortable with talking to her counselor or the Assistant Principal. They do not want to acknowledge me in any way, nor do they want to deal with any issues I have brought to their attention. Yes, I am Kylie's parent and I will challenge your authority when it comes to my daughter. After all, I pay my OPS taxes so you really work for me.
Just a side note, Kylie ended the year last year with a 3.87 GPA.  I guess it is what you put into it. As for the studies on the absenteeism, I see Kylie and other kids like her falling into a trap at the misunderstanding of the real meaning of truancy.