Monday, January 13, 2014

Lancaster County: Misuse of Excessive Absenteeism Law and CPS Continues

Edwina Christiansen is a single mother preparing for the Nebraska Bar exam.  Her 9-year-old daughter has mental health issues that require extra support from Edwina and from the school.  Edwina has readily faced her daughter's challenges and was successfully working together with the school to overcome them when, much to her surprise, the school turned her family over to the county attorney.  Edwina shares her story below:

My daughter has ADHD and ODD and throws temper tantrums in the morning.  During those tantrums, she sometimes locks herself in her room. Because of this, she has been tardy by 5-10 minutes on several occasions.

I have been working with the school and they are well aware of my daughter’s challenges.  We came up with a plan together to reduce her tardies.  With the supervision of my daughter’s doctor, we changed her med routine and she hasn’t had any tardies since.  I am so proud of her progress!  At our last meeting with the school on December 4, the assistant principal even commented on how much progress we had made with the tardies.

Imagine my shock to find out, after working so well with the school (or so I thought), that they had turned us in to the county attorney—not for absences but for tardies!  The school never once mentioned that they were going to turn us in to law enforcement although we had communicated regularly.  I didn’t even realize tardies were against the law in this state.  We just moved here from Oklahoma in May.  My daughter had some tardiness there, but the school never made an issue of it.

I am now charged with educational neglect and being prosecuted by the Lancaster County Attorney just because of my daughter’s tardies.  The County Attorney called CPS and a caseworker was here on Monday.  She wanted to interview my daughter separately, but I did not allow that to happen.  She interviewed us both together and said she doesn’t understand why the County Attorney is pursuing us because I’ve worked with the school and found ways to help my daughter stop being tardy.

Now my daughter has to miss school to go to court on Thursday, isn’t that ironic?  She has only had three other absences, and all were for medical reasons.  I think it’s horrible that a 9-year-old has to go through the trauma of a courtroom.  She isn’t a criminal and she hasn’t done anything wrong.  Neither have I!  I am just a mom who is trying to help my daughter in every way I can.

Another huge problem in all of this mess is that I am a law school graduate and I’m in the process of becoming a licensed attorney in Nebraska.  Right now I’m in the middle of the character and fitness portion of the Nebraska Bar admission process.  Having an open CPS case and child neglect charges on my record puts a serious wrench in things.  This law is threatening not only my family, but my entire livelihood.

Another thing that I find really questionable is that Lancaster County is using tardies from Tulsa against us.  How can they use information from another state to prosecute me in Nebraska?  My daughter went to Everett here in Lincoln in 2009-2010 and only had one tardy.  Last year, she wasn’t tardy once.  It’s just been this year that she’s had trouble in LPS and we’ve fixed it.  They are using tardies from a school that isn’t even in their jurisdiction and prosecuting us for that—it’s written right in the official complaint that they’re charging us for tardies in Oklahoma.  How can they legally do that?

In Tulsa, the school provided my daughter support in their in-school counseling system.  Yes, she was tardy sometimes but they understood and supported her.  Here in Nebraska, they turn you over like you’re a criminal or an abusive parent.

They have even assigned a guardian ad litem, who I assume will talk to my daughter at the school when I’m not present.  By the time we get to court on Thursday, there will be five public officials, all paid with our tax dollars, involved in this attack on our family:  A judge, the prosecutor, the GAL, the CPS worker, and my public defender.

I can definitely say that this law isn’t about helping families; quite the opposite.  This law, and the way LPS and Lancaster County are treating us, is harming my family enormously.  I think it’s horrible that the school can muck up our entire lives just to make their No Child Left Behind scores better.  That’s what this is about, not at all about what’s good for our children.


  1. This is totally and without question OUTRAGEOUS! How is the State of Nebraska allowing this treatment of Nebraska families. I am an Elected Official and I can not believe the children and families that have been and continue to be hurt by this law. No elected official should think this is okay. EVERY Elected Official should be calling for changes to this law!!!!! We work for the PEOPLE.

  2. Thank you for your story, Edwina, and your courage to question a harmful law. And thank you mab for your comments. It would seem, and the way these cases are portrayed by everyone from the governor to the author of this law to the county attorneys as being aberrations, or that somehow the law being misused (your governor's own words) but we know that these are not aberrations but the norm. When are our legislators going to listen? How many more children are they willing to hurt? Disgusting.