Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Comments to the Press by Brenda Vosik, Director of the NFF

Brenda Vosik's Comments to the Press
October 29, 2013

My name is Brenda Vosik and I am the director of the Nebraska Family Forum.    The NFF was founded about 2 ½ years ago to address the harmful effects of LB 800, the “excessive absenteeism” law passed by our legislature in 2010.  From its humble beginnings of two concerned moms, our group has grown to over 600 members and it continues to grow every week, as more and more Nebraska families are harmed by this law.

A little background on the law:  During the 2010 legislative session, Sen. Brad Ashford declared that Nebraska had a truancy crisis.  In the packet which will be given to you by Commissioner Borgeson at the conclusion of this press conference, you will find attendance statistics for the last 15 years, provided by our State Board of Education.  You will see that since 1998, daily average attendance rates have been stable in our state, ranging from 94.6% to 95.55%, less than one percentage point difference throughout those 15 years.  Pay particular attention to the school year 2009-2010, when the average daily attendance rate was 94.7%, not the highest rate in the 15 years shown, nor the lowest.

However, that was the year that Sen. Ashford suddenly and inexplicably declared that Nebraska had a “truancy crisis” and was able to pass the law making 20 days of absence, for any reason, a crime.  Not only was there never a truancy crisis – or even an attendance crisis – this law that was presented and passed under the guise of preventing truancy does not even contain the word “truancy” in its verbiage – only excessive absenteeism.  Even worse, the effect the law is having on children who are really skipping school is not even being measured.  The data that is being collected makes no distinction between kids who are skipping school and kids who are absent with legitimate reason; only absences are being measured but those numbers are presented as truancy data.  Those are certainly the numbers that will be given to you, the press, in defense of this law.  I urge you to look at them carefully and see them for what they are—and what they aren’t.  You see, proponents of the law play fast and loose with the word “truancy,” using it interchangeably with the word “absenteeism,” but we all know those are two very different things.  So here we are, three years and millions of dollars later, thousands of children dragged into the juvenile justice system, and we have no idea if the kids who truly need help are being helped.

What we do know is that this law has cast a wide net over all Nebraska families and transferred day-to-day authority over our children, from parents to law enforcement.  What we do know is that many, many families have been harmed, and we have been collecting their stories for almost three years.  Today, several of those families are sitting here behind me, prepared to speak to you.  Other families from across the state could not be here today, and some of their stories are included in your packet.  I also encourage you to look at our blog,  There you will read about children with meningitis, mono, asthma, autism and other physical and mental illnesses being treated like criminals and forced to accept diversion under threat of being taken from their parents.  You will read about a 12-year-old child with doctors’ notes for every day missed being served a summons by the sheriff, accusing him of being a danger to the morals of himself and others.  You will read of sick children being Mirandized like common criminals, you will read about a sick little girl crying to her mother, “What did I do wrong?”  Even after last year’s compromise amendment, the stories continue.  Thousands of innocent children are still being referred to law enforcement and are still being caught up in the juvenile justice system statewide, because the amended law allows it.

Over the past three years, Douglas County and the Learning Community have created an “attendance industry” consisting of attendance officers, Student Personnel Assistants, county attorneys, social workers, and other enforcers of the absenteeism law.  It’s a booming business, folks.  More than $1,000,000, and counting, has been funneled away from educating our kids to punishing our kids.  This money could have been used to provide services to families who really have at risk kids, who are perhaps struggling with actual truancy issues, or other circumstances that sometimes make it difficult for good parents to get their children to school.

The NFF has been immersed in this issue for more than two years, and we believe this law is fatally flawed.  We cannot “amend” our way out of this mess.  The law needs to be repealed and we need to start over with a new law that is really about truancy, that is really about helping and motivating kids to stay in school, without the constant threat of being taken away from their parents. 

Today we are advocating for four things:
1)      REPEAL of the current law;
2)      REPLACEMENT with a law that addresses real truancy, defined as being absent without the permission or knowledge of your parent;
3)      REMOVING law enforcement from the equation;
4)      and RESTORING a cooperative relationship between schools, parents and students—the three parties who should be dealing with attendance issues.

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