Monday, August 25, 2014

Parents: Be Proactive

Nebraska public schools are in full swing for the 2014-15 school year. This is a reminder that we all need to take responsibility for making sure our kids get to school whenever they are able, and we need to get them there on time. When they are not able to attend or they have to be late, it's important for you to keep a WRITTEN LOG of their absences, down to the minute, along with the reason for their absence. Be sure to compare your written log to the school's on-line attendance site at least once a week.

If your child is ill enough to stay home, but not ill enough to go to the doctor (low-grade fever, 24-hour stomach flu, etc.), take a picture! Take a picture of the thermometer with their temp on it. Take a picture or videotape the vomit (I'm not kidding). If you're caught in traffic behind a wreck, take a picture. If your car breaks down, save the repair receipt. Document document document. Unfortunately, this is what it has come to in districts like Lincoln Public Schools. If you are referred to law enforcement for legitimate, parent-approved absences, your attorney can use your documentation and photos to defend you.

And while you're documenting, why not write a letter to your school board and ask them to change unreasonable attendance policies? Those of us in Millard, Gretna, and Omaha Public Schools would be happy to show you what a reasonable attendance policy looks like. There ARE districts that respect parents while providing a top-notch education! (Millard has a 98% graduation rate and a family-friendly attendance policy.)

Be proactive and protect your kids!

Sunday, August 10, 2014

New Attendance Law Takes Effect With New School Year



NFF Parents:  The new state law regarding school absences took effect on July 18.  As children throughout Nebraska head back to school over the next couple of weeks, we will begin seeing how our own school districts and county attorneys handle the changes.  (Please click on this link for a reminder of the primary changes included in the new law.)
http://www.nebraskafamilyforum.org/2014/03/amendment-2164-fix-to-nebraskas.html

The new law has returned discretion over attendance back to the school districts, within the guidelines set forth in LB464, and many of those districts have revised their attendance policies over the summer.   Some of the new policies look great; others continue to be unreasonable.  Case in point is Lincoln Public Schools, which still categorizes parent-approved illnesses and medical appointments as “unexcused,” with no differentiation between parents calling their children in sick and kids who are really skipping school.

The Nebraska Family Forum as a group had a great impact on getting state law changed and returning discretion to the local level.  It’s now up to you, the parents of each district, to communicate with your school boards if you are unhappy with your local attendance policy.

Several members of the NFF, myself included, have experience dealing with school boards and administrators, organizing other parents, and effecting change.  We would be happy to guide you through that process.  However, a parent in Omaha, or a statewide group such as ours, cannot resolve a bad attendance policy in No. Platte or Lincoln or Hastings.  That is up to individual community members.

Don’t be intimidated by your local school board members.  You elected them, and they are there to do what’s best for your children and your families.  They are your friends and neighbors and fellow parishioners.  NFF members have found that school boards are, for the most part, approachable and open to hearing from the parents they represent.  Most of them are parents too, and are more than willing to listen to your concerns.

My advice to all of you is to read your district’s new attendance policy NOW.  If you think it’s reasonable, that’s great.  If you have issues with the way your district plans to implement the changes to state law, I suggest you take action right now.  Don’t let the new policies catch you by surprise.  Be proactive, instead of being forced into the position of reacting after the fact.  Protect your kids and protect your family, now rather than later.  These are OUR schools and they exist to educate OUR children.  It is our right and responsibility as parents to speak up and ask for change when school policy is hurting our children.

If you need help approaching your school board, please feel free to contact me at NebraskaFamilyForum@gmail.com. 

Brenda Vosik, Director

Nebraska Family Forum

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Common Core: A scam on the American public

This is a fascinating article about the deceit, cronyism and politics involved with the implementation of Common Core.

http://www.arizonadailyindependent.com/2014/06/01/truth-behind-arizonas-sudden-withdrawal-from-parcc/


I suspect this Arizona story is just a small sampling of what's going on nationwide.

Common Core is an enormous scam on the American public. Pearson, with the help of its political allies, is making millions. Our children are Pearson's unpaid guinea pigs, worker bees, data gold mines, and victims. Americans' tax dollars are being used to victimize their own children in a money making scheme so enormous that it should have the suffix "-gate" after it. 

Nebraska parents, we must remain vigilant in our fight against Common Core in our state, and we must join with other parents nationwide who are fighting to get rid of this atrocity in the states that have already implemented CC. Common Core is doing enormous harm to children throughout this nation and it is our responsibility to stand up and save them.

I encourage you to join nationwide groups to get more information about Common Core: Parents and Educators Against Common Core, Left-Right Alliance for Education, Dump Duncan, Common Crud, Badass Parents Association, and Badass Teachers Association are a few of the groups with good information.

Charter Schools study

This study is very interesting, especially in light of the possibility that Nebraska may legalize charter schools in the near future.

http://dianeravitch.net/2014/05/28/breaking-news-florida-league-of-women-voters-releases-bombshell-charter-study/


Florida is often held up as the "gold standard" by proponents of charter schools, However, this study found that Florida's charter schools do not perform better than public schools; that charters are more segregated than public schools; that many charters funnel money to religious organizations; that a significant number of charters operate for profit; and that the charter industry has captured control of key seats in the legislature.
I would like to find out more about the pros and cons of charter schools. Some people think they are the answer to failing school districts. Others think they will be the death of the public schools, because they funnel tax dollars from public schools into private schools who selectively accept the cream-of-the-crop students, and are run on a for-profit basis by businessmen and celebrities (did you know the rapper Pit Bull has a charter school?)

In any case, future discussion of this topic in our legislature promises to be a lively one.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Thoughts on Amendment 2164

Whenever I talk to the press, I feel nervous that they're going to misquote me or take my words out of context. So in a nutshell, here's what I really mean.

The current excessive absenteeism law has harmed many children and families.

Interactions with the justice system have been particularly harmful for children suffering from mental and behavioral health issues (depression, autism, etc.)

School districts throughout the state have reported thousands of children to the county attorney unnecessarily. I don't know why. Some day I'd like to get a straight answer from educators on what would possess them to turn struggling kids over to law enforcement without cause or remorse.

County attorneys have prosecuted children who were not skipping school and were absent through no fault of their own, including sick children with doctor's notes. I don't understand this either. I'm not giving the county attorneys a pass; however, I do know it's their job to prosecute and get convictions.  I understand their actions more than I understand the actions of the educators, who have devoted their lives to helping children, yet have caused so much harm.

I am satisfied with the verbiage of Amendment 2164 and feel confident that positive changes will result when it becomes law.

The amendment, if implemented correctly, will resolve the problem of children with absences due to physical and behavioral health being turned over to the county attorney. I believe it will prevent thousands of children from being thrown into the juvenile justice system.

There are children who need help overcoming barriers to attendance. AM 2164 is designed to offer that help rather than punish children who are struggling.

I believe Sen. Brad Ashford is doing a good job of explaining the problems with the current law and why changes need to be made. I appreciate his willingness to advocate for those changes.

I am particularly grateful for Sen. Mark Christensen's work on this issue. His advocacy for our families was behind the scenes and many people will never know the extent of his contribution, but suffice it to say he is a hero in my book.

Once the changes take effect, parents will need to work collaboratively with their schools to ensure the new law is implemented as intended. Parents elect their school board members and pay the salaries of school employees, so parental input into policies affecting their kids is crucial. It is the parents' responsibility to work with their school districts respectfully to achieve what is best for their children. That is, after all, what we have been fighting for.


Brenda Vosik, Director
Nebraska Family Forum

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Amendment 2164: A Fix to Nebraska's Excessive Absenteeism Law



Dear NFF Members:

Over the past three weeks, I have had the privilege of working with a committee assembled specifically for the purpose of rewriting the excessive absenteeism law.  This committee consisted of school administrators, social workers, State Department of Education personnel, a county attorney and a defense attorney, a children’s advocacy group…and me, representing you.

Our committee spent about 15 hours talking, negotiating, and coming to agreement on how we could prevent children with legitimate absences from being referred to the county attorney, while still ensuring that children who are truly at risk are able to get the help they need to overcome barriers to school attendance.

Below is the link to the verbiage that the committee agreed upon.  The amendment is 2164 to LB 464, and it will be debated on the floor very soon, possibly as early as Thursday, March 6.

http://nebraskalegislature.gov/FloorDocs/Current/PDF/AM/AM2164.pdf

If this law is passed, it will provide safeguards and oversight to prevent schools from using county attorneys as a first resort to enforce attendance policy, and it will help put a stop to county attorneys filing charges on students with legitimate absences.  It puts a great deal of responsibility on the schools to work with the families before ever referring to the county attorney—a piece that has been missing for the past four years.

These are the key strengths of the new verbiage:

·        There is no mandatory referral to the county attorney.  The school is no longer required to refer your child at 20 days of absence.
·        The schools have six specific steps they must take before even considering referral to law enforcement.  Those steps must be well documented.
·        The cornerstone of those six steps is collaboration with the family.  Parents and school administrators must agree on a plan together when a student is struggling with attendance.  All factors contributing to absenteeism must be considered and addressed prior to referral to the county attorney.  The county attorney is to be used rarely and only as a last resort.
·        After all steps are completed and documented, there is a minimum number of absences (20) that must be reached before the school can even consider referral.  Illnesses that make attendance impossible or impracticable cannot be used in this 20 day tally.
·        An affirmative defense clause has been added.  The amendment specifically states that if the school does not complete and document every step required in the statute, it is a defense to prosecution of truancy or neglect charges.  In other words, if the school doesn’t do their job, the county attorney has no case.
·        The Council on Student Attendance is created.  This council will review attendance policies and practices of every Nebraska school district and make recommendations for changes.  There will be oversight of school districts who have unreasonable policies and/or are making inappropriate referrals to the county attorney.

Parents, these are very positive changes!  With correct implementation, this amendment should eliminate thousands of children being referred to the juvenile justice system.  Education of parents, schools, county attorneys, and defense attorneys will be the key to making this work the way it’s supposed to.

The NFF is almost 740 strong this morning, and growing every day.  We are not going anywhere.  Our group will continue to be vigilant as this law is passed and implemented, and we will not stop pointing out when the law is being misused and our children are being harmed.  However, I believe a great deal of that harm will be alleviated if this amendment passes.

Thanks to all of you brave families for speaking up in defense of our children over the past four years.  WE ARE NOT DONE YET.  I will be posting an urgent call to action on the Facebook page and blog very shortly, asking for you to immediately CALL AND E-MAIL STATE SENATORS and ask them to vote for this amendment. Please help make one last push to get this law passed, for the sake of our children.

Brenda Vosik, Director
Nebraska Family Forum

Monday, February 24, 2014

Lincoln County: Child with Crohn's Disease Threatened With Foster Care



First of all, I am so very thankful that I have good friends who told me of your advocacy group, as I am beside myself with worry greatly beyond having to deal with my daughter's illness now.

I have, for approximately 3 years, been trying to figure out what has been wrong with my daughter, Kristyna, who is a 14-year-old 8th grader.  She had been complaining of gastrointestinal issues and I have had her to many doctors, who have completed many tests and surgeries in attempt to diagnose.  I was hopeful that after she had her gallbladder removed that we had solved her problem; however, quite the contrary.

To make a long story short....Kristyna was finally placed in the care of the gastrointestinal doctors at Colorado Children's Hospital and I feel that we might be on our way to getting her on the right track after diagnosis of Crohn's Disease and chronic salmonella and pending-to-be-tested for gastroparesis soon.

In the midst of dealing with her illnesses, I have been fighting with the school district concerning her education.  I, as a teacher, take her education SERIOUSLY!  Also, as a teacher in the same district, I apparently continued for much too long having some trust in the idea that if I JUST talked to them enough and provided them with every bit of doctors' information, that they would take her situation seriously (NOT A LITTLE TUMMY ACHE!) and help me with her education during this trying time.

I requested her work from her school and had MANY personal conversations and correspondence with her principal, vice-principal, truancy officer, and Central Office. I knew that I was not getting all of the work that was needed to provide her with an education and to pass her classes.  I requested (as well as her doctors) that she be placed on a 504 Plan.  We met and a plan was drawn up.  At that time, I believed that Kristyna might be able to start attending SOME half days with the medications seemingly proving to have some affect.  Then......she contracted Salmonella!  With Crohn's, any stressers (health or emotional) can throw this person into a flare-up.  Kristyna's body was not able to rid of the Salmonella, as a person with a healthy digestive system would.  Her doctors were stumped as to how to rid her body of this with her already-compromised health condition.

Needless to say, this has been a long, drawn-out, horrible process.  I had asked personally and in email that her 504 Plan include a homebound tutor just in case we were to have some sort of backslide during our first meeting to develop the plan.  I was met with "we will cross that road, if we get there."  I told them that since this is all new to us and every Crohn's patient is different, that I felt it an absolute necessity to have this in the plan.  I was refused this.  Augh, we got to that road.......and my daughter was denied verbally and in writing for a homebound tutor. I became impatient after a half of a year of trying and withdrew her from school and placed her in a homebound tutoring program.  I have also shipped her off to live with my parents in Wyoming, as her health has declined and my parents are getting her in a rhythm of homeschooling.  I unenrolled her from the district on February 3 and NOW have a summons signed on February 18 as to my having to show up to court for truancies.  Her doctor at Colorado Children's Hospital agreed with me that homeschooling would be the best decision for her until she is placed on a treatment program that will help her.  I went in to talk to the District Deputy County Attorney in Lincoln County, Jennifer Wellan, on Friday and was treated as though I wasn't taking this seriously even though I CALLED WITH NO RETURN CALL AND THEN WAS SITTING IN HER OFFICE.....of course, I know it's serious!  She also told me that I could hire a lawyer, if I could afford it (I am a single mother working on a Nebraska teacher's salary, paying for medical and pharmaceutical treatments, and traveling to doctor's appointments) because it might be decided that my daughter could be taken away from me and placed in a foster home.  I AM BESIDE MYSELF!!!!! 

Kristyna is currently with my parents in Wyoming and I am going to be signing over Power of Attorney for health and education.  Will this help my situation?  Please help!!!  My daughter has lived with me her entire life, is a great student, participates in volleyball and basketball (even played through pain in her tournament prior to her gallbladder surgery against my judgement), and is a talented and beautiful singer.  She WANTS to be back with her friends and activities at school.....her health isn't allowing! I CANNOT BELIEVE that a school system has been that unwilling to help a child with a tutor and for laws that are to help children are hurting these kids who are suffering health issues!!!!!!! 

I am an educated individual and this entire situation doesn't even allow me the ability to "write" cohesively when telling of this story right now.  I pray that you can help guide me in a direction that will "stave off the wolves" and allow me to continue to care for my child.


Sincerely,

Denise Shoults
North Platte Teacher and Pained Parent

Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Flatt Family: Another Chronically Ill Child Charged with Truancy in Douglas County



 My daughter Katrina just turned 15 last week.  She has several serious, chronic medical problems, including juvenile diabetes, severe migraines, and a bowel disorder.  We have seven doctors working with Katrina, including a pain management therapist.  We are doing the best we can to help our daughter.

We have communicated with Westside High School and they are fully aware of Katrina’s medical problems.  They adjusted her schedule and agreed to consider making additional changes, but now they have turned us in to the county attorney.  Westside told us their “hands are tied” because of LB 933 and we found out that’s not necessarily true.  If they would have excused all her absences, which they should have since every one was for illness, then they wouldn’t have had to turn her in.  Also, we know now that there’s a cover sheet attached to every referral and our school had the opportunity to check “do not prosecute” on the sheet.  They must have recommended the county attorney prosecute our daughter, because she got served with papers accusing her of being truant.  She has never skipped a day of school in her life.

Can anyone tell me how the county attorney is going to help my sick daughter?
 
How does punishing her for being sick help her attendance?  It doesn’t!  It will only make things worse.  The stress on her has just increased by a ton!  She knows that other sick kids have been taken away from their parents, and we are all terrified that she will be next.

Last year, in middle school, Katrina missed even more days than she has this year.  We were called down to the courthouse but as soon as they saw our medical documentation, they told us to go home.  Now this year, they file charges?  None of this makes any sense.

This is a terrible, unfair law that is hurting innocent kids.  My daughter is not a criminal, she is a sick little girl who hates missing so much school.  I don’t understand how adults can treat kids this way.  If the point of this law is to terrify sick children, then the law is working.

We are now going to have to hire an attorney to represent us at our court hearing in two weeks.  That’s a couple thousand dollars that we can’t spare, but that’s what this law, the school, and the county attorney are forcing parents of sick kids to do.  In the meantime, we will talk to Katrina’s grandmother in Iowa to see if Katrina can come there and live.  If  leaving Nebraska is the only way our daughter can be safe, then we’ll have to do it, but it’s not right that Nebraska parents should have to send their sick children away to protect them.

Donna Flatt
District 66
February 23, 2014

"I Had Done Nothing Wrong But Be Sick"

Lucas Maynard was only 12 when the sheriff served him with papers accusing him of being “a juvenile who is habitually truant from home or school and deports himself in a manner so as to injure or seriously endanger the morals or health of himself or others.”  Lucas's absences were all excused by his school since they were either due to illness or to days when the roads were impassable because of heavy snow (the Maynards lived in a rural area 12 miles from their school).  Thinking the charges had to be a mistake, Lucas's parents went to court with their doctor's notes, assuming everything would be straightened out quickly.  Imagine their shock when their son was separated from them, placed between a prosecutor and a guardian ad litem, and told by the judge he might be taken from his parents.  Lucas writes about this frightening experience in his letter to the Judiciary Committee.

Dear Members of the Judiciary Committee;

My parents and I are in support for the changes to the attendence law and the new proposed amendments. We want to see an end to the stories of children and their families being taking into court by county attorneys for being sick from school like I was this past year.

I had done nothing wrong but be sick and then to have my name given to a deputy county attorney who didn't even know me or my family and then he filed papers against me. He didn't even talk to my principal or my mom or dad about why I was missing school.

He just sent a deputy to my house with the papers for me and my parents and I was told if I didn't go to court I would go to jail. I was very scared. But my mom said not to worry.

But when we did go to court, they made me sit at a table with guys I didn't know and the judge had the charges read to me about things I hadn't done and then told me if I was guilty I would be taken away from my parents. I was asked if I understood all of this lawyer talk but I didn't even though I said I did.

It took my mom and the help of others to get the county attorney to drop the charges so I did not have to go to court again but we still had to deal with the law this year as I became sick again.

Please fix this law so kids like me who are sick don't have to go to court or have to deal with cops and lawyers.

Sincerely,
Lucas Maynard
Gurley, Nebraska

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

"School shouldn't be a place we are terrified to go": Antony Ward's Letter to the Judiciary Committee

DEAR MEMBERS OF THE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE,

I SUPPORT THE CHANGES TO THE ATTENDANCE LAW INCLUDED IN AM1674 AND AM1734.
 
My passion is football!  I am a Senior this year and a 4 year Varsity Football Player at South High. I am the State Power Lifting Champion.  I help take care of my family.  I work a part time job.  I am involved with my church, Avenue Scholars Program & Greatness Academy and my dream is going to college play football and get my degrees in Engineering & Videography … school is my gateway ticket there. 
 
I never expected to get thrown in Truancy Court because I was never Truant for even one day… I was only absent with illness and good reasons.   The only thing we are working against here is to get that percentage of  kids that have illness, sickness or excused days where their parents communicate with the school board on what’s going on in their household we are trying to get that percentage out of the court room.
 
I got Mono and was real sick missed lots of days of school I was sick for over 5 months.  I didn't miss my school work because my Mom made sure I kept up with my school work.  When my Mom almost died it was so hard to see her in so much pain losing so much blood and so weak.  Some days my little brother and I would stay home because we thought if we went to school and she died that would be horrible so we stayed with her together with my family.  I am mad at the lawmakers for putting my family through such a terrible nightmare.  It has been very stressful, scary and took a lot of time away from our happiness.
 
We had to find attorneys and people just to help us fight for our innocence and find justice. 
Our lives changed so much and it was very scary not knowing if the police were gonna come take my little brother away… or my Mom  he was always very sick with asthma and he got any virus that came to his school even swine flu
my family that too, but I didn't get it.    I like school & I get good grades,  Missing those  many days of school didn't negatively effect my education because I still learned what the other kids learned and turned in my work. 
 
My Mom always had me get my make up work from my teachers and I kept up with my class even though I was not sitting in a seat at school… I still learned and today I’m going to College at Metro and UNO taking my classes to get my Associates Degrees.  So that truancy law stole time from our lives and wasted lots of money and made our lives life very sad. 
 
This school year I've had: torn quad, upper respiratory infection, sprained ankle, stomach bug, other football related injuries, I’m just a normal regular kid going to school, playing sports and getting injured or hurt sometimes along with the occasional cold/virus that comes through attending school.
 
This is a note from one of many colleges that want me to come to their school.
They wrote to me and said, “Antony, our coaching staff has identified you as an athlete we definitely want as a part of our 2014 recruiting class.  Not only are you a fine football player, but we also recognize your high level of academic success!”
Funny how all my "excessive absences" haven't had any negative impact on my grades and my academic success shows that!  I am proud of myself and I know my family is proud of me.
 
School is only one place we learn certain things, being with our family and living life is how we learn to be an adult and our parents know us the best. One day I missed school and made up my assignment and my teacher told me I was the only one who turned in the assignment and I wasn't even in school that day so I don’t think it is true that you have to be in a seat at school to learn.  You do have to have a good parent that care about you.
 
If you keep taking away our childhood and punish us and take us away from our families that we love you just hurt us. 
Our parents love us the most and know what’s best for us.  We aren't criminals.  Please take the police out of our schools because your parents didn't have to face courts, sheriffs at your door, wait for attorneys to come to your house then they don’t even show up.  School shouldn't be a place we are terrified to go to… police should get criminals and sick kids  & kids that skip school are not criminals… just kids.
 
We don’t need to go to court or diversion and neither do our parents.   I liked school a lot better before this law came out.
It is unjust and all the damage this law has done is just stupid and really  hurt my family bad.
Like my Mom says… we will never ever be the same and even though we are free and our cases dismissed …we still suffer lots of stress from this whole Truancy scare.
 
 I’m glad I’m 18 so that stress & fear goes away from my family now.  Everyone deserves a chance to grow up and if the truancy law wants money they should find another way than making profit off us kids.  Please get rid of that law Repeal it and make it go away so we can be safe at school again.  This law is just wrong!
 
Antony Ward