Compulsory Education’s Unforeseen Consequences: Nebraska Case Studies   6 comments

Lately, there’s been quite a buzz about ending compulsory education. Utah Senator Aaron Osmond propelled the idea when he wrote a piece on this subject at the Utah Senate blog. Osmond pointed out that it is a “parental right to decide if and when a child will go to public school,” adding that “in a country founded on the principles of personal freedom and unalienable rights, no parent should be forced by the government to send their child to school under threat of fines and jail time.”

Public education started out as an opportunity, but over the years, turned into a governmentally enforced mandate. The mandate flies in the face of other laws, such at Utah’s FERPA, which asserts that it is the parent, and not the government, who is the primary authority over a child.

That’s just common sense to most of us; in fact, most parents are utterly unaware that there is a battle going on between government “collectivists” and parents. The idea that parents hold authority over a child is not acceptable to an alarmingly pushy segment of society, who say government should take ownership of children.

This is, of course, communism.

But it’s becoming acceptable to many. Watch the video put out by MSNBC’s Melissa Harris-Perry, of the Lean Forward campaign. She asserts that “we have to break out of the notion that children belong to parents.”

It is time to wake up and protect parental authority. With that introduction, I’m presenting this guest post by Autumn Cook. Thank you, Autumn.



Guest Post by Autumn Cook

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 abuses 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

The Chambers Family
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.

The Herrera Family
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 Garrity Family
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.

The Hall Family
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.

6 responses to “Compulsory Education’s Unforeseen Consequences: Nebraska Case Studies

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  1. Excellent article! If you drive by your county jail you might see prisoners who have earned the right to work on the grounds. Others are allowed to leave for the day for outside jobs; then they come back in the evening, are patted down for drugs, and sleep at the jail. These prisoners have committed crimes and are hopefully improving their lives. Children, on the other hand, are innocent, but they are sent home to sleep at night, bringing their schoolwork with them, and are incarcerated in classroom holding tanks during the day. What was once a privilege is now a sentence.

    Utah was required to offer free public schools as a condition of statehood. Our State Constitution reads: “The Legislature shall make laws for the establishment and maintenance of a system of public schools, which shall be open to all the children of the State and be free from sectarian control. Article III, 1896”

    Nothing in the Utah Constitution said the schools had to be compulsory. Nothing said the schools owned the children. Nothing made other education methods illegal — in fact the various churches in early Utah often had their own schools. Sadly, although LDS church leaders begged their members to continue to support the church schools, the draw of “free” won out. How different life in Utah would be now if more parents had believed in self reliance and religious education all these years.

    It’s time to rid Utah of compulsory education and free families to do what is best for their children.

  2. True that this law is hiding behind “the name of “helping children””, but I think other reasons they keep it on the books is to drum up the business for the lawyers and all legal counsel (and we don’t want it). Some in our society have become negligent, abdicating responsibility, and seeking handouts. By such neglect we have made government the crutch and power it is today. We need to get our freedom and rights back.

  3. Georgia also has this as part of the points a school gets or has taken away in its evals so it is hard to see but I listened to the state DoED presentation on it in May 2012. My guess is if you read the fine print on what gets most schools the A-F ranking or its equivalent you will find incentives for principals to get tough on missing school. The sales pitch in Georgia was that students who miss more than 15 days a year are less likely to graduate. That may be the talking point rationale but it is not the real reason for the crackdown.

    The definition of Learning under these ed reforms and Growth itself is behavioral changes and changes in values, attitudes, and beliefs. Which of course drive behavior at a mostly unconscious level. You cannot change what you cannot get at so attendance becomes necessary for ALL kids. But especially the bright ones who may already have Axemaker Minds. One is because knowing how much pressure it takes to change beliefs is terribly useful to behavioral psychologists. Secondly, under the distributed intelligence theory of the classroom those kids better vocabulary and reasoning skills become classroom property to be tapped into. Bright kids are also the ones who quickly decide if the teacher cannot teach the material anymore why am I going to school? I could stay home and read a good book.

    You would be doing everyone an enormous favor if every one of your readers in each state read the small print on how schools are really being evaluated and have them report back. I know where this is lurking in Georgia. Given how hard A-F is being pushed in those NCLB waivers, I’d bet that is where this is lurking in most states and districts.

  4. Michael and Robin, you are both right on in your evaluations about the interests that are pushing and benefit from these oppressive laws!

    Michael, in Omaha the country attorney had to hire several more prosecutors and the guardians ad litem were overworked like you wouldn’t believe! They even pulled funds out of the education budget to pay for these prosecutors – no kidding.

    And Robin you are just right as can be about the grading. Under the bill that was proposed in Utah this last year, the category of “chronically absent” would have been added to the school performance reports. The pressure to reduce that number on the peformance reports would have driven new laws to reduce this newly created “problem” of “absenteeism.” I hope Utah legislators can continue to see the oppressive nature of this approach and reject it, as more bills of this nature are introduced in coming legislative sessions.

  5. The mindset is already here in Utah. I was having monthly blow ups with Bingham High’s attendance office. It first started when I got the handbook in the mail. I knew we were in trouble, because I literally could not decipher it. Seriously… look it up on line. These people started requesting letters from my kids’ clinicians….on letterhead…. to be hand delivered to the front office (often handed to or filed by a fellow student) to be placed God knows where for God knows how long. Unlike our clinic, our daughter’s providers wanted some money for their time. Fair enough. When my argument to them about privacy fell on deaf ears, I finally told them, “look, you people write me a check for $10.00 for each letter you want.” I was not going to lose money so that Bingham High School could violate my kids’ privacy.

    I finally exploded at the start of my kids Senior year. I told the attendance office that two doctors of psychology parents were really getting sick and tired of paying kids with not half of our joint experiences, money to provide a note, for $10.00, to tell them that my kid needs a few hours of rest during some days of the week because of exhaustion.

    My Senior daughters solution after watching this war go on for her entire Junior year? She got a job in the attendance office, became well liked, worked hard….and looked out after her own privacy with her own eyes. She was smarter than us all.

    This is just the start.

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