Truancy law stings undeserving families
October 31st, 2013
Omaha, NE — A Nebraska law seeking to reduce school truancy may have run up against the “law of unintended consequences” and actually be doing more harm than good. Douglas County Commissioner Mary Ann Borgeson held a press conference recently to ask the Nebraska Unicameral to repeal the law.
Antony Ward along with his mother Tonya and his two little brothers Michael and Ty, were horrified when a Douglas County Deputy Sheriff showed up at their front door threatening to remove Michael from the home because he had missed too many days of school in 2011.
“When I heard her say the words “ward of the state” it got me alarmed,” Antony said. “My little brother has a chance to be taken away from my house right here at this second.”
According to Nebraska’s LB933 Excessive Absenteeism Law, if a child is absent 20 days per year 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 report such information to the county attorney of the county in which the person resides.
At that time in her life, Tonya was losing a battle with an unspecified health condition that caused her to bleed internally, Antony was suffering from mononucleosis and Michael had frequent asthma attacks. Although Tonya reported the absences to each of the boy’s schools, it was to no avail. She eventually had to appear in Douglas County District Court to explain Antony and Michael’s absences.
“They stayed home from school with me because they were afraid to leave. They thought that I wasn’t going to be home when they came back home from school,” Tonya said. “I kept them home from school and called them in home with me. Family business is what I said and they would always tell me that it was excused, but behind the scenes it’s really two logs: the log that they tell the family that ‘yes, that’s excused’ and then the real truth what they send to the County Attorney that says it’s not excused because those two criteria are not met.”
Mary Ann Borgeson, Douglass County commissioner, and Brenda Vosik, director of the Nebraska Family Policy Forum, want the bill repealed so that other families like the Wards won’t have to be traumatized by a similar experience.
Borgeson presented a repeal of the section of LB800 that made 20 days of absence from school a crime. The resolution also supported repeal of the amendment LB463 and LB933 that were passed in an attempt to fix the original law. It also recommended replacement of the law with the definition of truancy: an absence from school without the knowledge or permission of a parent or guardian. The resolution is supported by the Douglass County Board and Nebraska Association of County Officials.
“In my opinion and in our board’s opinion it is time to give back parenting to parents,” Borgeson said. “It is time to give this issue back to the schools. It is time for schools to work for and with families again.”
Vosik said the words truancy and absenteeism have different definitions, but are being treated as one in the same when it comes to students who miss class.
“Thousands of children have been dragged into the juvenile justice system and we have no idea if the kids who truly needed help are being helped,”Vosik said. “What we do know is that the law has cast a wide net over all Nebraska families and transferred day to day authority over our children from parent to law enforcement.”
Tonya and her family continue to try and put this ordeal behind them. Tonya is now homeschooling her two youngest sons, while Antony completes his senior year at Omaha South High School.
“We’re just trying to move forward with that and put this truancy law in the back of our minds but still make sure that it doesn’t affect other people going forward,” Antony said.
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