Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Shiech Family: "Terrified they would take my child, they stole my final goodbye"



Mary Ann Shiech lives in the Lincoln Public School District and is the single mom of three sons.  Mary Ann suffers from a serious immune deficiency illness, which is exacerbated by stress, and leaves her unable to work outside the home.  In spite of that, she is a college-educated community activist who doesn’t hesitate to devote her time and talents to speaking out against injustice.  Mary Ann bravely shares the story of her ordeal with Lincoln Public Schools, which turned her non-truant child into the county attorney, not just once, but three years in a row.  Each year, Mary Ann was prosecuted by the Lancaster County Attorney and had to retain legal counsel.  As is common with the Lancaster County Attorney’s office, each of the unfounded cases were dragged out until the last minute and then dropped right before trial.  The stress on Mary Ann’s family and the toll on her health have been enormous.  Here is her story.

The first of three truancy charges came after my son Jeramiah’s last year of elementary school  had already ended.  Jeramiah was attending Everett Elementary and had been the victim of bullying for years. The abuse came to a head when he was stabbed in the back with a pencil by the same child who had been constantly bullying him for years. The school did not even call me to inform me of the incident.  Since Jeramiah had been victimized for two years and the school had made zero progress in dealing with the issue, I took him to the police station, had his wound photographed, and filed charges.  I then called Lincoln Public Schools administration, told them about the incident, and informed them that as a parent, I could not send my son to school unless they could guarantee he would be safe. I checked in with administration and the school daily while my son kept up with his school work at home. They refused to remove the other child from the classroom or offer any action that would assure me the situation was being taken seriously or that any changes would be made.

When I realized that Everett Elementary was not going to resolve the problem, I put Jeramiah into McPhee Elementary, where he finished the year with no issues. After the school year had ended, I discovered that the school had turned me in to the county attorney and the county attorney had filed truancy charges.

That first time, it wasn't required that I bring Jeramiah for an initial appearance; our attorney took care of that.  After a proper investigation, charges were dropped, as it was found I was acting in my child's best interest and the school was not.  My question is, why isn’t an investigation done before charges are filed?  Isn’t that how it’s done with all other crimes?  There was no reason to ever bring my family into court.

The next year, my son began having stomach aches and missing school. This culminated in him being admitted to Bryan Hospital. He had enlarged lymph nodes in his mesenteric pouch, in the bowels, and they were literally "twisting" his bowels. He was hospitalized and given morphine to manage the excruciating pain.
Due to his absences because of this illness, the school turned me in to the county attorney before Jeramiah had even missed 20 days, and the county attorney filed truancy charges before he had missed 20 days.

I was horrified that, this time, I had to bring my son in for the judge to terrorize him by saying that he might be removed from his home until he was 19 years old.  Jeramiah was scared to death and didn’t understand why he might be taken from his mother because he was sick!  We were assigned a lawyer at the initial appearance, but when we didn’t give in to the pressure to “volunteer" for the truancy diversion program, I was told he could not represent me.  We didn’t “volunteer” because why should my son have to go to diversion when he was sick?  What was he supposed to be diverted from?  So we got another lawyer, the county attorney held on to the case for a long time, and shortly before trial, the case was dropped because all of his absences were due to illness and all the documentation was there.  Everyone knew from the very beginning of this process why he was absent, and everyone had the documentation from day one, so why was he ever turned in and why were charges filed?

This last year, charges were again filed before Jeramiah missed 20 days, I believe "in anticipation" he would miss the required amount of days necessary to substantiate the charges. That year, Jeramiah missed a week of school due to Strep A infection, which was first thought to be a West Nile infection. He was sent home to recuperate, then the second Strep test came back positive and he could not go to school until he had been on antibiotics for a certain amount of time.

Also that spring, my mother, Jeramiah’s grandmother, passed away. We took a week off of school to spend with her, to be with her as she passed. Once again, charges had already been filed before he had missed 20 days, and due to this I did not even attend my own mother’s funeral.  Terrified they would take my child, they stole my final goodbye.

Many of the absences reported to the county attorney were for just one class or a partial class. When I reviewed the attendance records, I found that in those instances he was in school, just in another place with the teacher’s permission. The incompetence of those keeping record of attendance is unbelievable and the result is that innocent children end up in court.  After dragging the case out for months and getting another attorney, the unfounded charges were once again dropped.

This invasive law and Lancaster County’s “truancy program" take away a parent’s natural right to decide what is best for their child.  I wanted to be there when my mother was buried, but fear of losing my child into the system kept me from taking him out of school any longer.

Personally, I feel that because I would not "comply" with what I believe is a cash for kids program, initiated at Park Middle School, I then became a target for harassment. My parenting choices were being questioned at every turn.  He was bullied, he was sick, and his grandmother died.  I made the right decisions for him every step of the way, like good parents do.  My kid doesn’t need a psychologist or a social worker and I don’t need a parenting class.  I’m a good parent and my child doesn’t have mental health issues, so stop trying to pull us into the “system.”

Now that the school district has figured out they’re not going to get me for "truancy," they have begun digging into other areas of my life.  This is all part of the bigger picture created by this law, which gives more authority over our children to strangers such as school employees and county attorneys, than to their own parents who love them and know them best.

Lincoln Public Schools and Lancaster County are misusing this law to abuse innocent families and sick children.  This has been very damaging and detrimental to my health.  We have been hurt badly by this law, and we believe it needs to be changed.

3 comments:

  1. Well written

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  2. Molly PhemisterNovember 01, 2013

    This is outrageous! I'm appalled that LPS is behaving this way. I can't imagine the pain of missing your own mother's funeral. Even worse, this isn't the first time I've heard of this issue with the truancy laws. This is clearly not working. Something has to change.

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  3. On October 30, the Omaha World-Herald did a spot check of various attendance policies in Nebraska. Here is what Lincoln Public Schools reports as their policy: "Excused: Absences approved by the school or parents. If there are numerous parent-approved absences, schools work with families to determine whether extra support is needed. Unexcused: Any absence that's not approved."

    Sounds great, doesn't it? Very reasonable. No way would a child with a twisted bowel, strep throat, or grandma's funeral be turned into the county attorney, right? Wrong!

    Here's the trick. LPS appears to be calling legitimate absences "excused,", but it makes no difference because they're then turning in students with excused absences to the county attorney. Their "reasonable" attendance policy is a sham.

    And the reason they're able to get away with that is because the verbiage that Brad Ashford insisted be left in the 2012 amendment allows it. Students with ALL excused absences MAY be turned into the county attorney.

    The abuse of Nebraska's families continues, and it's all perfectly legal under Ashford's law.

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