My friend and popular Common Core blogger Christel Swasey shared on her blog today the following article, which I wrote about the anti-family trend in school attendance laws sweeping the nation. Her posting of it, including her insightful commentary, can be found here: Compulsory Education's Unforseen Consequences: Nebraska Case Studies.
Abusing Basic Rights through School Attendance Laws: Nebraska Case Studies
12-year-old Lucas Maynard and his parents found themselves in truancy court last week. Lucas’ offense? He got sick too much this year. The punishment? They're still waiting to find out, but the judge has informed him that removal from his parents’ custody is a possibility.
All around the country, there is a quiet assault on families taking place. In the name of “helping children,” state laws and school district attendance policies are being altered to draw thousands of innocent children into the juvenile justice system and wave the heavy threat of state force and social services intervention over the heads of ordinary good parents.
Innocent children whose crimes amount to being frequently ill, or struggling with mental health issues such as autism, or being the victim of bullying, are being hauled into court, coerced into lengthy “diversion programs,” threatened with removal from the custody of their parents, actually removed from the custody of their parents, and in other ways terrified and treated like criminals. Their families are being put through the wringer with unpaid time from work for court dates, costs for attorney fees, and fear of state intervention in their families.
Untold numbers of other families are being frightened into doing everything possible to avoid entanglement in this system, including sending their kids to school sick and cancelling family travel. It is happening in states all over the country – I personally know of cases in Indiana, Texas, and Wyoming, with particular knowledge of what is happening in Nebraska because of personal involvement.
Here’s how it’s been playing out in Nebraska. In 2010, motivated by an attempt to get points on its Race to the Top application, the Nebraska legislature passed a law at the request of the Governor which effectively took away the right of a parent to excuse her child from school. The new law required schools to report kids to law enforcement if they had more than 20 days of absence – for any reason at all. Nebraska could get more points on its application by having a plan in place to increase attendance. All states were able to earn more points for implementing more oppressive attendance laws.
At the same time, school districts started tightening up their attendance policies, disallowing excuses for family travel or time home with seriously ill family or military parents on leave from deployment. Before the change, Nebraska applied the reasonable and widely-used standard of reporting kids with unexcused absences – those whose parents hadn’t accounted for their whereabouts.
Where once state law, school district policies, and public officials worked to reduce truancy – kids missing school without their parents’ permission (a.k.a. “skipping”) – the focus is shifting to reducing absences of any kind. The shift is leaving untold collateral damage in its wake, including the relationships between school administrators and the parents they serve. And it’s shifting our culture to embrace the “state knows best” mindset, minimizing the authority of parents and giving far too much power to state officials to decide what’s “best” for individual children. It’s also generating a lot of business for the social service industry.
Last week, the story of the Maynards – referred to above – became the latest in a long list of such stories out of Nebraska. Their story highlights much of what’s wrong with the “brave new approach” to school attendance that’s sweeping the nation. Lucas experienced a lot of illness – plus two days of impassable winter roads in rural Nebraska – during the past school year. This innocent offense landed him in court, forced to sit away from his parents between the prosecutor and the guardian ad litem assigned to him, listening in terror as the judge informed him that one of the consequences of his absences from school could be removal from his parents’ custody. (Children are assigned a guardian ad litem in cases of alleged abuse or neglect. So the state of Nebraska has implied that the Maynards committed abuse or neglect by keeping their son home when he was ill and when the roads were too dangerous to travel!)
The Maynards’ entire story can be read at the Nebraska Family Forum blog. Unfortunately, it’s only one of hundreds if not thousands of such cases, and that’s just in Nebraska. The toll around the country is much higher, with many cases even more egregious, such as this one involving a 9-year-old in Wyoming.
If you see attendance policies and laws like this, don’t wait a day to contact your local school boards and state legislators. They need to hear the message that laws and policies must protect the fundamental right that parents have to make decisions for their children. For those who are lucky enough to live in states and districts where this approach hasn’t been implemented yet, watch your legislature and local board meetings like a hawk! Proponents of this approach to school attendance are pushing the “state knows what’s best for each child” approach all over the country, including here in Utah this last session.
It’s another piece – an especially frightening piece – of the education reform puzzle that is shaping up all over the country.
More stories from Nebraska
A quiet middle-schooler with severe allergies is sent to the county attorney, forced to submit to a drug test without her parents’ knowledge, made to feel like a criminal, and ends up attending school when sick, staying in a quiet room where she naps and eats lunch – just so they can count her present.
A mother decides to homeschool her 3rd-grade daughter for the last few weeks of the school year after school officials fail to deal with her bullies and she gets beaten with a stick on the way home from school. Because she doesn’t waited to receive official notice of approval from the state – her daughter was in imminent physical danger – when she comes back the next year she is reported to law enforcement, made a ward of the state, and her mother is placed on the child abuse and neglect list.
The story of a 15-year-old boy with autism shows how families who already struggle with unique challenges are abused and put through further suffering by the state of Nebraska and its school districts.
A well-liked honor roll student with seasonal asthma is forced into a “diversion program.” Diversion from what? Asthma? The solution the following year is that when she is too sick to go to school, her parents must bring her to school so the school nurse can verify the parents’ judgment.
What You Can Do:
Know your state representative and state senator, as well as your local school board representatives. Keep an eye on the legislature when it's in session and on school board meetings, and be prepared to speak up if you see something that concerns you, or something that pleases you. Our representatives need our positive feedback when they are considering something we like as much as they need our negative feedback when the situation calls for it.