Monday, November 18, 2013

Bribed Into Wellness? Hastings Public Schools Targets Sick Children

Bert Peterson lives in Hastings and is the grandfather of two asthmatic children.  He tells his family's story in this letter to his state senator.
(Note:  Bert refers several times to STARS, which stands for Strategic Targeted Attendance Reporting System.  The mission of STARS is:  "To join local school districts, community mental health providers, community agencies, families and courts to address the causes and solutions to fight truancy and excessive absences in order to provide youth with the opportunity to ensure successful education.  Our goal is to help students and families find the support and guidance needed to attend school on a regular basis.")

Dear Senator,

As you are preparing for the January session of the Unicameral I hope you will consider repealing most of 79-209 “Compulsory Attendance; nonattendance etc.”  You in particular with your membership on both the Education and Judiciary Committees can understand that while 79-209 has increased attendance it is hurting many innocent chronically ill children who already have enough on their plates.

The case that brought this to my attention was a grandson who suffers from asthma who ran afoul of the Hasting School Attendance Policy (Hastings Middle School) after 20 missed days last year.  In this case his mother (my daughter) is a teacher in Grand Island and certainly understands and doesn’t condone truancy. 

After receiving a letter from the school about her son’s absences my daughter talked to school officials and to the County Attorney and explained that the absences were due to a chronic illness – asthma.  She was told by the County Attorney that court action would be the result of not attending their silly weekly meetings called STARS.  These weekly meetings required a parent or family member to be present which means taking off time from work for the parent and loss of income.  Her husband was told the same thing by the County Attorney on a second occasion when he protested about losing time from work and the cost to the family for what is a chronic illness.

I attended only one such meeting, in lieu of the parent, and it was an absolute waste of time.  The worse part of the meeting was that my grandson was told to pick out a present from a bowl since he hadn’t been absent for a month.  He declined and was upset by their juvenile attempt at bribery!  A bribe to cure a chronic illness?  If that works they need to go to the FDA and see if they can get approval of their new treatment for asthma!

Sitting next to us, while we each waited our turn to go into the STARS meeting, was a student (who had obvious serious physical problems that would be expected to cause him to miss a good deal of school).  My daughter asked one of the Middle School STARS officials why such a child was in STARS.  This child obviously had enough on his plate without these meetings.  This STARS official gave a good deal of information about this child that was presumably protected information under their STARS program and certainly protected by HIPAA.

My daughter was caught off guard by the reaction of the school and the County Attorney last year.  That won’t be the case this year.  That grandson is now an honor role student in Hastings High School and a second grandson (also with asthma) is in the Middle School.  Should this come up again we will refuse to participate in their STARS program and will be very happy to see them in court should the County Attorney push it and will counter sue.  Secondly we will home school.  I’m still more than qualified to teach middle school, or high school.

From an Education Committee perspective It is important to understand that while attendance is up in Hastings, this is a meaningless statistic unless they can show causation.  In fact the evidence in the research is at least as strong that:
  • Truancy is caused by poor performance, as is the evidence that
  • Poor performance is caused by truancy

This is an education issue and the County Attorney has no place in it, until the school determines that a child is a habitual truant. 

From the perspective of the Judiciary Committee 79-209 violates the most fundamental cannons of our legal system in that it punishes the innocent along with the guilty.  From:
  • the Bible at Genesis chapters 18 and 19 where Abraham says to God’s angels “Wilt Thou indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked” referring to Sodom and Gomorrah and God relented allowing Lot and his family to leave
  • to Torah scholar Rabbi Moses Maimonides in the 12th century who asserted the Torah requires absolute certainty of guilt referencing the above and also Exodus 23:7
  • to British jurist William Blackstone in the 18th century: "All presumptive evidence of felony should be admitted cautiously; for the law holds it is better that ten guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer"
  • to Ben Franklin who quotes justice Blackstone but increases his 10 to 100 guilty going free
  • to John Adams  who shows the same sentiment as justice Blackstone while defending the British soldiers that caused the Boston Massacre.

The presumption of habitual truancy for children with chronic illnesses is against every principle that our system of fairness and justice was founded on.

Please help get the legal system off the backs of innocent chronically ill children by repealing most of 79-209.

A Brief Guide to "Truancy" Charges and Legal Representation

***Members of the Nebraska Family Forum are not attorneys and do not give legal advice.  Any advice given by the NFF is based on the experience of our members and what we have witnessed in the court system.***

What should you do if your child is referred to the county attorney for absences?

* If your child is referred to the county attorney, we recommend that you contact the Nebraska Family Forum immediately via e-mail (, Facebook (Nebraska Family Policy Forum) or the website (  Provide your name and phone number and a representative of the NFF will contact you to confidentially gather information about your family's unique circumstances, and discuss with you possible options.

* The NFF recommends that you never appear in court or at a meeting with prosecutors without an attorney accompanying you.

* We recommend that you hire a private attorney if at all possible, even if that means calling on all your personal and family resources.  In our experience, we have learned that a private attorney is the best way to prevent you and your child from being unjustly treated in juvenile court.  If you retain an attorney at the beginning of the process, it is possible that it will not take much of his or her professional time to get the issue resolved, which could save you time, money, and stress.  Hiring a private attorney may be the best investment you ever make.  The NFF can provide you with referrals to attorneys who are familiar with the "excessive absenteeism" law.

* If it is impossible to hire a private attorney, you may request a public defender be assigned to your family.

* We strongly recommend that you refrain from making any statements to your school, to a county attorney, to DHHS, to a guardian ad litem, or to any member of the county's truancy diversion team or the GOALS team without an attorney representing you.  The NFF can provide you with "reverse Miranda" cards to use in case an attempt is made to question your child outside of your presence.

* If you are in a position where you must speak to any official without an attorney present, RECORD YOUR CONVERSATION.  This is legal in Nebraska, unless you are in a courtroom.

Please feel free to contact the Nebraska Family Forum with any other questions regarding "truancy" charges and legal representation.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Someone Else Will Do It

Someone Else Will Do It:  When Fear Stops You
by Gina Miller

When I received the first letter stating that my child had missed a certain number of days of school, and my school district was required by law to inform me that if she missed any more school they would be referring her to the County Attorney, my sense of injustice went right through the roof.   I immediately started working to find out who I could partner with to figure out how something so sacred as the relationship between myself and my child’s school could be turned into threats and intimidation, into bullying of my child by school personnel, with innuendo and public conversations about her attendance in front of her friends.  

I have been in this fight for three years.  I have worked with amazing, passionate people who have put their lives on hold to fight for my child and all of yours.  I have had the opportunity to meet with principals, superintendents, school boards, legislators, county boards, county attorneys, and pretty much anyone else who would listen.

I feel that I have been pretty effective getting our message out and connecting with decision and policy makers.   Through all of my efforts it was not until just recently that I disclosed that I had a child that was affected by the law.  Most of my friends thought this was just one of my “causes” that I was working on.  

Why did I not disclose that my child was targeted, that I feel that my family has been injured and harassed?

I have struggled with this question for quite some time.  Even after I told people that my daughter was in jeopardy of being referred to law enforcement, when I was asked to say something publically about it, I became paralyzed!   What was that?  I have fought to change this law for three years.  I knew that the one thing policy makers were impacted by were family stories!   I have privately told people my personal story, so what was stopping me from going public with our story?

THE DOUBTS, THE FEAR, THE INTIMIDATION….yep, that was it.  What would other people say?   WHAT IF “they” were right and my child really wasn’t sick and just “wanted to stay home.”   WHAT IF my child received further harassment from the school because of me going public with our story?  WHAT IF, since we were into year three of this harassment, they decided to use the clause in the law that said you can refer at any time if the child has previously gone over 20 days?    What if, what if, what if……. 

I knew we had “other family stories” and that they had been effective.  What I didn’t know is that once the policy makers hear a story, they are done with it.  They don’t want to hear about it again.  They assume these are “one off” situations, that there is a simple explanation for that one case and they move on.  Once we started getting families who would agree to tell their story publically and we were able to piece together a “quilt” of stories across districts, across counties, across the state, THEN PEOPLE STARTED LISTENING.

This is what we need:  We need PEOPLE, we need FAMILIES who can personally recount their experiences with this law.  We need them to stand up, to be heard, to engage, to let policy makers hear their story.  It doesn’t have to be pretty, it doesn’t have to be perfect, and it doesn’t have to be detailed.  Just SHOW up.  Just start.  Just come together with other families who are experiencing the same thing.  You ARE NOT ALONE!  There IS POWER in numbers!  

What I discovered once I received a “little push” to go public is that I WAS FREE!   I was free to tell my story!  I received support, not judgment! I was free to go past the typical chain of command to get to the decision makers to CHANGE my situation!  I was free to GET THINGS DONE!  That is all I have wanted for three years!  For three years I have felt like I have been screaming in the dark, fighting an unwinnable battle.  But since there were brave families willing to go public I can now say that we are within inches of getting this law repealed.

We CAN NOT STOP right before the finish line!  We NEED NEW STORIES, WE NEED MORE FAMILIES, and WE NEED YOU!!!!  

Please join me in setting us ALL FREE!  

Posted by OPS parent Gina Miller, 11/13/13

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Russell Family: Parents can no longer parent their children

My daughter is a first grader in Omaha Public Schools.  She missed several days in a row.  I took her to the emergency room. She was diagnosed with the croup virus. This caused high fevers, sore throat, runny and plugged up nose. She would cough so hard she would vomit.  We had a very sick little girl.  If I have to rush her to the hospital, obviously it isn't a little cold.
Even though I had a doctor's note, the school sent a letter home with my daughter about her attendance. They wonder why parents take offense to this as I know when my daughter is sick. We also have to weigh out if there is a chance they can be sent home by the nurse, which also causes a problem.  I work in Papillion.  I can't just get off work any time I choose.
I can't help but feel angry when I received this letter.  Parents can no longer parent their children without everyone else involved.  So when she is sick again and has to go to the hospital at 6:30 am, I think I need to get ahold of the principal to go with me, then she needs to come to my house on Monday to decide if my daughter is well enough to go to school because obviously they think as parents we can't make the right decisions.
Normally with a virus they don't give medicine but she was given a medicine to drink which was a steroid.  I emailed the principal to tell her the days should have been excused.  Boy do I feel like I have no control of my own child.  I expect child support if she has another parent involved in decisions made for her.  I am sorry, but I am tempted to mail the letter back to her.  I am VERY MAD.
Tammy Russell, Omaha Public Schools

Friday, November 8, 2013

Repeal the Excessive Absenteeism Law

The Nebraska Family Forum is asking the Nebraska legislature to do the following during the 2014 session:

REPEAL the current law

REPLACE it with a law that addresses real truancy, defined as being absent without the knowledge or permission of a parent or guardian

REMOVE law enforcement from the process

RESTORE a cooperative relationship between schools, parents, and students—the three parties that should be dealing with attendance issues

Please remember that these are our goals when you are speaking with friends, parents, state senators, and other public officials.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Congrats to all in and working with the NFF who struggled so mightily to win some awareness on the evil being done by the excessive absenteeism law. I so appreciate everyone who has the courage to step forward and speak, and to bare the pain of reliving these horrific stories to help others understand the harm being done to our families in Nebraska. There was good media coverage recently, and if you want, you can read (and forward on) the story at

I would like to point out, however, Senator Ashford's response in this news piece: State Senator Brad Ashford sponsored the original truancy law and two amendments to it. He says there won't be changes to the law. "We are not going to repeal the law. The law has had a dramatically positive impact on young people throughout the state, in counties throughout the state. There are diversion programs in Hall County, Adams County, in Wahoo, Douglas County, in Sarpy County. There is a new awareness by school districts that there is a place to go if they can’t find a child."

What place is that, I wonder? Jail? The courthouse? I would like to know exactly what kind of law it is that stands against the will of the people. Or, could it just be that we have not protested enough? Made enough taxpayers aware of where their education dollars are being spent? Raised enough awareness? So please, keep the pressure on. Keep writing those letters and posting those stories. It's clear we still have a way to go to get this disgusting law repealed.