Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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. 

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