Wednesday, April 11, 2007
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Parents irate at proposed truancy ordinance

Children's rights as citizens put to question   Send a link to a friend

[April 11, 2007]  Text

City of Lincoln Ordinance Committee members were surprised last night. The meeting to discuss the proposed Truancy Ordinance drew a large public turnout. The majority of the council was also present to discuss the proposed ordinance intended to curb school absenteeism.

The ordinance is the same as the Logan County Truancy Ordinance and has been under development for quite some time. Truancy has been out of hand in Lincoln and Logan County with over 400 absences a day and growing.

Also related is the Logan County’s already high and increasing juvenile crime rate, which represents one of the county’s highest annual costs impacting a stressed county budget.

School District 27 truancy officer John Bunner helped draft a new ordinance that could diminish both. The new ordinance needed some teeth that would give law enforcement some authority. The ordinance is modeled on what the nearby communities of Peoria and McLean County have enacted. The Peoria ordinance has led to lowering crime during the day, city ordinance chair Marty Neitzel said.

However, parents that are home schooling are taking issue with the ordinance. In particular, they are opposed to the part of the ordinance that says that children should not be out between the hours of 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. on school days.

Numerous members of the public that came to the opening discussion of the proposed ordinance spoke. Each one was a parent that home schools. Parents identified that the legislation would create anxiety, shift the burden of innocence until proven guilty, hinder freedom for their home schooled children.

The parents explained how home schooled children often do not have the same school hours and are out going to private lessons, work, events and for other purposes.

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One mother said her young children were afraid of the police coming to their door if they went out to play if this ordinance would pass. Ed Carter did not want children to feel afraid to be out in their own yard. “This is not the kind of town Lincoln is and not the kind of town we want it to become.

Some said that parents of older students said that this would cause anxiety or fear that the students might be stopped by a police officer when going about their business in public. Some parents said that the proposed ordinance violates children’s rights of freedom and feeling safe when out under the authority of parents. “Do we want to send a message to the community that we can stop a child just because they are out?” Tom Van Hook said.

Michelle Squire said she understood the intent of the legislation to take care of a delinquency problem, but said that it misses the mark. It is a school system issue and suggested that it needs to be dealt with it there.

This was the first meeting to review the proposed ordinance. A parent that wished not to draw publicity for herself, Mrs. R. M., suggested that the committee meet with the home school parents to help work out a workable ordinance.

Chairman Neitzel agreed that this would be a good idea. She said this morning that she wanted to sit down with them personally first and then arrange a meeting with the committee.

Neitzel said that she wouldn’t hurry this through; there is not timeline. “We want to protect everybody,” she said.

[Jan Youngquist]

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