Wednesday, January 11, 2012


Good to see that two state senators have proposed minor changes in Nebraska's irksome new truancy law in the early days of this legislative session:


That's a hopeful sign that a resolution to the truancy problem may be possible. The parents' group opposing the criminalization of truancy has expressed a mixture of encouragement that their voices are being heard, but dismay over the continuation of what they see as the erosion of parental sovereignty over children. They decry the substitution of the criminal justice system over parents as the authority figure in school attendance matters.

Now, truancy is a "status offense." A "status offense" is something that a minor child might do that wouldn't be a crime if that person were an adult. It should be noted that a status offense such as truancy previously hasn't been handled in the court system per se, involving the county prosecutor with real-world consequences. Previously, school attendance problems have been handled at the local school level, allowing educators to use their best judgment as to how to solve the problem, and when needed, they have gotten the juvenile court system involved.

It's true that truancy -- the deliberate, anti-social form -- is associated with other status offenses, such as smoking cigarettes and drinking alcohol out of the supervision of both parents and educators, and even crimes, including theft and vandalism. But not all "truancy" is like that. So prosecuting families whose kids are dealing with chronic illnesses and miss school days, or who go on trips, or obtain special, out-of-school educational experiences -- BUT MAINTAIN PASSING GRADES or in some cases, the best grades in the school -- is a waste of time, and drives a big wedge in the already-shrunken level of trust between home and school.

The stiffened-up attendance regulations are likely to drive successful, high-achieving students to private schools so that they can participate in the complementary educational experiences that are so important. For example, a few years ago, a national champion equestrienne who needed to compete in other states to gain points toward her goal was forced to leave the public school in Elkhorn to go to Skutt High School.

Why? Because she was going to miss about 20 days of school over the course of a year, and Skutt has more flexible attendance rules, which are based on the educators' judgment of the credibility of the excused absences, not an inflexible state law.

This young woman was an A student, and continued to be an A student, as well as being highly involved in extracurricular activities at Skutt and a cheerleader. She handled the many days of absences very well, because she and her parents made sure she stayed caught up and maintained good communication with her teachers.

The students she left behind at the public high school missed out on a great classmate. Now, how would it have been to have had that girl PROSECUTED for "truancy" violations, with an A average?!?

It is hoped that the parents' group will continue to inform the public, and that the tweaks in the truancy law can be amended to everybody's satisfaction.

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