Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Unbearable Consequences of Nebraska's Attendance Law

Deena Wilson* is a single mother raising her 15-year-old daughter, Charity,* in a small town in east central Nebraska (*names have been changed to protect the privacy of the child).  Her heartbreaking story shows the stark reality of the damage that’s been done to Nebraska’s children when the schools joined forces with law enforcement, and state law made absences and tardies a crime.

My daughter struggles with several physical and mental health issues.  She has bowel obstruction disorder, which is very painful.  She also struggles with severe depression and has bipolar disorder.  We have worked for years to get her stabilized, and have had to turn to the State of Nebraska because we could not afford the mental health care she needs.  We have a caseworker who has done a pretty good job helping us and Charity has made a lot of progress.

Because of her physical and mental health issues, Charity has missed the “magic number” of 20 days this year, but they were all excused.  However, one day, she was really struggling with her depression and I had trouble getting her out of bed and off to school.  I was honest with the school about why she was late, and I certainly regret that now!  The school counted that tardy as unexcused and threw my already fragile daughter into the criminal justice system.

Charity was terrified about going to court last Thursday (January 9) and so was I.  We both knew that one of the consequences of being found “truant” is being taken from your parents.  That is the last thing Charity needs.  I just can’t understand how anyone can think going to court and being threatened with losing your mom is helping children, especially kids who are already fragile and struggling like my daughter.  How does standing in front of a judge and being accused of a crime by some young prosecutor help any child?

Well, it certainly didn’t help my daughter, that’s for sure.  She was so traumatized by the court experience and by the pressure being put on her to get to school “no matter what” that after our court appearance, Charity tried to commit suicide.  She took a knife to her arm and sliced herself up, trying to find a vein.  We rushed her to the hospital and she’s in the psych ward at Bryan LGH in Lincoln right now.

I am devastated.  She was doing so well and had made so much progress.  We were working with the school, with her doctors, and with the caseworker, and things were getting better.  That is, until Nebraska’s attendance law sent my daughter back into a spiral and she almost paid for it with her life.

The state of Nebraska has no business sending children with illnesses and other struggles into the court system as if they’re criminals.  My daughter is not a criminal.  She is a precious child who has challenges that most people can’t even imagine.  She is simply trying to make her way in the world, get a good education and get the help she needs to overcome her illnesses.  She didn’t deserve to be treated this way.

Is this law really helping kids?  I don’t know, and frankly, I don’t care.  It almost cost our family more than we can bear.  If a few kids are going to school a little more often because of this terrible law, or test scores have gone up a little bit, it makes no difference to me.  I almost lost my daughter.  That is a price that no parent should be asked to pay, yet that is what our state is asking of us.

Please, I beg of our lawmakers to change this law before another child is traumatized and attempts to take their life.  Perhaps the next child will succeed.  Will test scores matter then?

1 comment:

  1. I just sent an email to my state senator and Gov Heineman (now the 2nd year in a row) to do something about this law. I would encourage you all to do the same. Together, we can make a difference.