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

3 comments:

  1. AnonymousMay 30, 2014

    what are the six steps?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. 1. Verbal or written communication by school officials with the person or persons who have legal or actual charge or control of any child; and
      2. One or more meetings between, at a minimum, a school attendance officer, a school social worker, or a school administrator or his or her designee, the person who has legal or actual charge or control of the child, and the child, when appropriate, to attempt to address the barriers to attendance. The result of the meeting or meetings shall be to develop a collaborative plan to reduce barriers identified to improve regular attendance. The plan shall consider, but not be limited to:

      (a) Illness related to physical or behavioral health of the child;
      (b) Educational counseling;
      (c) Educational evaluation;
      (d) Referral to community agencies for economic services;
      (e) Family or individual counseling; and
      (f) Assisting the family in working with other community services.

      The school may report to the county attorney of the county in which the person resides when the school has documented the efforts it has made as required above that the collaborative plan to reduce barriers identified to improve regular attendance has not been successful and that the child has been absent more than twenty days per year. The school shall notify the child's family in writing prior to referring the child to the county attorney. Failure by the school to document the efforts required is a defense to prosecution. Illness that makes attendance impossible or impracticable shall not be the basis for referral to the county attorney.

      Delete
  2. AnonymousJune 11, 2014

    I was a 10th grader for the 2013-14 school year, and I missed a lot due to migraines and high sensitivity to light and sound. Going to class was pointless because I was unable to cope. I did all my work from home the last 9 weeks of school, and all of the absences were excused. I'm just so scared of what could happen now though. So scared, that I've considered if it would be easier to drop out.

    ReplyDelete