By Deena Winter | Nebraska Watchdog
OMAHA — Nebraska parents and schoolchildren called on state lawmakers today to amend the state’s truancy law so it stops subjecting good kids to potential prosecution for missing school.
They say exemplary honor roll students and caring parents are being unnecessarily caught up in the two-year-old law’s claws, which requires schools to report to prosecutors any child who misses 20 days of school, whether they’re excused or unexcused absences.
Among those who have been caught up in the truancy law net are an eighth-grade girl who missed school after her father was killed in a car accident, a student who went to Haiti to volunteer after a hurricane and students who performed at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
The Judiciary Committee is considering three bills that would change the law to try to deal with those unintended consequences. The law was enacted in 2010 to address absenteeism problems in Nebraska – that year 22,000 students missed more than 20 days of school – by bringing school officials and county prosecutors together. Last year, about 18,000 students missed more than 20 days of school, which some say is evidence the law is working.
However, some students have found themselves in the court system even though they are missing school because they’re very sick or attending funerals, weddings or special events.
Omaha Sen. Brad Ashford said the law has prompted school districts to develop programs to deal with absenteeism, but he said the law wasn’t intended to unnecessarily throw all students into the juvenile justice system. Ashford has proposed a bill, LB933, which would require county attorneys to work on cases with school officials at the schools, not the courthouse.
“We want to get this right,” Ashford said.
Another bill sponsored by Lincoln Sen. Tony Fulton, LB1165, would allow school officials and parents to work together to try to solve absenteeism problems before involving a prosecutor. It also differentiates between excused and unexcused absences.