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.

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