Senator Brad Ashford of Omaha has proposed criminalizing the act of keeping your kids home from school. This is abhorrent for many reasons, and should be withdrawn from consideration immediately.
Deputy Douglas County Attorney Kim Hawekotte and Ralston Public Schools social worker Steve Snodgrass, both active in truancy prevention in the Omaha area, said the proposed language change will make it easier for schools to identify students who are being improperly excused. "By taking that sentence out," Hawekotte said, "the schools have to react when a youth isn't in school, no matter what the reason. You want the system to kick into place to make that determination."
No, Ms. Hawekotte: you want the system to kick in. Our kids rarely miss school for non-medical reasons. However, sometimes we take advantage of educational opportunities that require a day or two of absence. As parents, this is our privilege and responsibility. It is not your job to second-guess our decisions.
As introduced, LB 1159 would get law enforcement, including the county attorney, involved earlier by making it an infraction to be the parent of a truant child. The first offense would prompt a $50 fine, the second, $100. The third would be considered a Class III misdemeanor, punishable by up to three months of jail time and a $500 fine.
We are considering taking a long weekend to Mt. Rushmore or Yellowstone National Park near the end of the school year. For various reasons, we might possibly have to make that trip while class is still in session. Mr. Ashford, your plan would require our school system to investigate us as criminals and fine us for teaching our kids first-hand about our country’s history, geology, and geography. Will you be passing a bill to take our kids on an equivalent field trip? Or will they simply miss out on that experience because likeminded senators deem themselve better parents to our kids than we are?
"If you're not in school, you're not learning," said Ashford of Omaha, chairman of the Legislature's Judiciary Committee.
Mr. Ashford, that’s one of the most offensively ignorant things I’ve read in a while. Formal education is critically important, but I assure you that my children learn outside the classroom. From teaching my kids to write computer programs, to learning French together as a family, to taking trips to national monuments and museums, they are learning.
I don’t want to downplay the need for kids to attend school as required, but completely reject your asinine assertion that their education ends when I pick them up from school.
The solution is simple: don’t fix what’s not broken, especially when the fix would cause even more problems. If a child is suspected of truancy, investigate that child. If a school system is unable or unwilling to do so, then address that problem. Don’t create an assumption of guilt every time a child misses school, though. You are not my kids’ parent. I am. Irk you though it may, I know more about what’s best for them than you do.
This bill puts State above Parent. Kill it.