Thursday, January 30, 2014

They Have Broken His Spirit

They Have Broken His Spirit:  The Strauss Family, Gering, Nebraska

I have been bullied on several occasions by the Gering Public School system and have been referred several times to the County Attorney.  My son has a mental health disorder and on several occasions had medication changes.  He also had surgery for a broken/injured hand several times. All his excuses were approved by me so I did not agree with the court documents stating he was truant.

My son is now in high school, 17 years old, on an IEP, medication changes,  and just struggles walking in that  door.  His self esteem is zero, and the lip service the school gives me about working with my child is so old.  The threat of turning us into the County Attorney came up again in our meeting last week.

I hope that this group can continue their work regarding parental rights and the right of the parent to decide what is best for their child. I actually had the County Attorney tell me regarding my son's surgery on his hand that I could have sent him to school.  I explained that he was under the influence of Vicodin; she stated that as long as it was a medication with a prescription that he should have been attending. 

I am considering filing the paperwork to let my son drop out of school. I simply do not feel that he is getting an education and being treated fairly by a school system that my tax dollars support.

The principal informed me that I cannot take him out of school until he is 18 and that by law he has to file documents with the County Attorney.  From my research, I’ve discovered that I can sign documents and complete an exit interview, at which time I present my reasons in front of the school board for taking him out of this school.

This whole situation is unfortunate as he is entitled to a free public education. There has simply been too much history and terrible experiences related to his education and IEP processes, and of course the school's one-sided documents to support, as they say, "bending over backwards" to educate my child.  It’s simply not true.

Regardless of my situation and decisions I make, the truancy law as written continues to put undue pressure on good parents, and leave children frightened about a system that they do not understand.   These are kids who have normal teenage problems; they are not criminals.

Parents need to be able to make the best decisions related to their children.  There are so many frightened parents that have to sit and listen to a County Attorney tell them there is no reason at all for a child to miss school.  The County Attorney also forces the parents to sign an attendance document that states that they are guilty of truancy even if they have shown documents of why the child missed.

I asked about this form and why I needed to sign a document admitting my son was truant, even though he’s not.  I presented the County Attorney with notarized documents and pictures of my son’s surgical repair, as well as dates of his appointments.  She didn’t care about any of his medical problems and she didn't even want to look at what I gave her.  It was during this meeting that she informed me that I should have sent him to school even though he was recovering from surgery and taking the pain killer Vicodin. 

I am tired of this.  I have had four long years of bullying by the Gering Public Schools.  Four long years of my son not being educated.  Four long years of this school not honoring his IEP and bullying him to the point of his mental health becoming worse.  He now has no self worth, and zero confidence. The public school used the truancy law to bully me further, as they stated they are mandated by law to turn it over to the county attorney.  I know that’s not true, because the law requires provisions for sick kids, which our school district isn’t following.  I didn't have to go in front of a judge, but DHHS was called and that is just as frightening.

I have a son with an Axis 1 bipolar disorder.  He has had many ups and downs with his illness, many medication changes and a big target on his back.  He has made some teenage mistakes, like lots of people do.  He has taken responsibility, and answered for those mistakes.  I can't help but think that some of this is related to the “bad boy” label that the school gave him and they’re using the truancy law to punish him further, even though he has never skipped school.  They have broken his spirit.

Part of me wants to make the school honor his IEP and educate him.  I have been threatened once again with being referred to the County Attorney because my son changed medication after sinking into a deep depression. He is stable now and has an adjusted school schedule. Simply put, he cannot continue to walk through those doors five days a week.  After all the abuse by the school, and now the County Attorney, he just experiences too much anxiety and a very real feeling of spiraling downhill again. 

It’s been very hard for him, and for me.

I am a college graduate and a social worker.  I have 19 years of experience working with individuals and families in various agencies. The majority of my career has included working with mental health consumers.  I know without a doubt the way my son is being treated by the school and County Attorney is harming him, not helping him at all.

I have heard so many stories related to public schools and violations of IEP's. The truancy law has added yet another stress for parents and youth, and another way for schools to hurt kids with special needs, this time with the threat of law enforcement and DHHS.  This is wrong and it needs to be changed for the sake of our kids.

I have also had my son express suicidal ideations, the majority of his depression triggered from school issues.

How many families are out there who don’t know how to advocate for their child?  I am sure there are many.  Bless you for your tireless work and being a voice for parents.

Becky Strauss
Gering Public Schools
January 30, 2014


  1. This is atrocious, how many good children are being adversely effected by this badly written law.

  2. I think it's time for a call to the Bazelon Center for Mental Health Law. All parents who feel as though schools are breaking federal law by violating our denying IEPs should contact the NFF or me (the Family Advocacy Movement), to help organize the communication with Bazelon.

    Even if the truancy law gets amended, thousands of families and children are already harmed and have been subjected to this outrageous and violative treatment. It must stop.