Thursday, January 30, 2014

The NFF supports proposed changes to Nebraska's excessive absenteeism law



Two amendments have been filed in an effort to revise Nebraska’s excessive absenteeism law.  Below is a brief summary of what is included in those amendments, as well as the expected outcome of the proposed changes.  Both amendments are available on-line if you want further details or wish to read them in their entirety.

The Nebraska Family Forum supports these changes, and will be issuing a formal statement of support at the Judiciary Committee hearing on February 5.

I.  January 23, 2014, Amendment 1674 to LB 464 (2013) filed with the following change to the excessive absenteeism law:

“If the child is absent more than twenty days per year or the hourly equivalent and any all of such absences are not excused, the attendance officer shall file a report with the county attorney of the county in which the person resides…”

Expected outcome of this change:
Schools would no longer be required to turn in children who have reached 20 days of absence if just one absence is unexcused.  Instead, schools would be required to only turn in students with 20 unexcused absences.  With this change, we believe there will be a significant decrease in the number of children being referred to the county attorney.

II.  January 28, 2014, Amendment 1734 to LB 464 and AM 1674.  This amendment includes the following changes:

A.  “All school districts shall have a written policy on excessive absenteeism developed in collaboration with the county attorney….The policy shall include a provision indicating how the school district and the county attorney will handle cases in which excessive absences are due to documented illness that makes attendance impossible or impracticable….”

Expected outcome of this change:
By striking the word “documented,” school districts will need to consider circumstances in which children are ill but do not have a doctor’s note.  Requiring a doctor’s note for every minor illness is impractical and an extreme burden on families, especially those without health insurance and/or who are living in poverty.  In school districts throughout the state, parents are no longer allowed to call their own child in sick.  We are hopeful that this change will restore common sense in school policy, as well as respect of parental judgment. 

B.  “If the child is absent more than twenty days per year or the hourly equivalent and all of the absences are due to documented illness that makes attendance impossible or impracticable or are otherwise excused by school authorities, the attendance officer may shall not report such information to the county attorney…”

Expected outcome of this change:
The schools will no longer have the option of turning over children with all excused absences; in fact, this language prohibits them from doing so.  This should result in an immediate decrease in the number of children referred to the county attorney by the school districts who have been reporting children with all excused absences. 

C.  In addition to the changes above, AM 1734 creates a Council on School Attendance.  This council will be charged with various tasks related to school attendance, including:

1.     Considering whether school district policies and practices for addressing truancy and absenteeism are operational and effectively working to address truancy and making recommendations for improvements where necessary;

2.     Reviewing all school district policies and making specific recommendations for school district policy improvement.

3.     Money would be appropriated for the purpose of funding grants to school districts that need assistance with programs regarding absenteeism and truancy.  The money would be given to the State Department of Education (not law enforcement), and the Dept. of Ed would determine the grant application and distribution process to the school districts.

Expected outcome of this change:
School districts with unreasonable attendance policies (i.e., not excusing legitimate absences such as funerals, court appearances, normal childhood illnesses, college visits, etc.) and those who are targeting children with disabilities, I.E.P.’s, and physical and mental health issues will have oversight and input from the Council on School Attendance.  Schools who qualify for grant money would be given funding to assist their students who are struggling with attendance, rather than funding county attorneys to punish those students.

2 comments:

  1. This is great news :)

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  2. This is great news...it will be better once its out of the hearing. as I have said before, the word "any" and the word "may" were very powerful words to a county attorney and even a Public Defender trying to defend the case..cases that have no business being in court.

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