Tuesday, September 10, 2013

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.

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