LINCOLN — Two bills introduced in the Nebraska Legislature on Tuesday would give the state's controversial truancy law a little less bite.
But the leader of a parents' group said neither would do enough to address concerns that the law reaches too far into families' lives and lumps together good families and troubled ones.
Stephanie Morgan, a Millard mother and head of the Nebraska Family Forum, said the group is continuing to push for a solution that gives school districts and parents more flexibility.
"I don't think this is the end of the conversation at all," she said.
Both bills respond to numerous reports of unintended consequences of the law, including many families who told The World-Herald about being caught up in the legal system because of a sick child.
The two-year-old law shifted away from a traditional focus on truancy, or unexcused absences, to a broader focus on "excessive absenteeism."
It also shifted responsibility from schools to the legal system for dealing with truant students.
Legislative Bill 933, introduced by State Sen. Brad Ashford of Omaha, would shift the responsibility back, at least partially.
Under current law, schools report each student who accumulates 20 absences, regardless of the reason, to the county attorney, who must decide how to handle the case.
Under the bill, schools and county attorneys would jointly review each student with more than 20 absences.
If they decide action is needed, the bill directs that the response start with a meeting between school officials, the county attorney and parents at a location set by the school.
Ashford, the chief architect of the current law, said he wanted to get away from having families called to the county courthouse and from getting the legal system involved with families unnecessarily.
"This needs to be addressed in a less stressful and more productive way," he said.
But Ashford said he wanted to ensure that someone reviews each case to be sure at-risk students don't start falling through the cracks again.
Numerous studies show that missing school lowers student achievement and contributes to other social problems.
"It's an issue we needed to address," Ashford said. "Now we need to get it right."
But Morgan said Ashford's proposal would not go far enough in getting it right.
The Nebraska Family Forum is pushing for a return to a more traditional definition of truancy, along with lowering the number of unexcused absences that would trigger action.
Sen. Abbie Cornett of Bellevue took another approach to fixing parents' concerns in LB 917.
Under her proposal, absences due to documented illness or related to the deployment of a military parent would not be counted toward the 20-day mark.
Parents of sick children should not have to face the stress of having their child reported to the county attorney, even if the attorney takes no action, she said.
Nebraska has to pass the military deployment language, she said, to comply with an interstate compact on the education of military children.
Morgan said her concern with Cornett's bill is that it would not protect students who have other justifiable reasons for being absent from school.
Although LB 917 also says other excused absences would not be counted, Cornett said that language was a "drafting error."
Among other bills introduced Tuesday:
» LB 912, introduced by Sen. Beau McCoy of Omaha, would bar local governments from offering any protection against discrimination to groups not already protected by state law. The measure would block proposals to ban discrimination against homosexual and transgendered people in Omaha.
» LB 923, introduced by Sen. Heath Mello of Omaha, would require state agencies to give preference to buying American-made iron, steel and manufactured goods.
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