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In re Reality W.

Supreme Court of Nebraska

April 12, 2019

In re Interest of Reality W., a child under 18 years of age.
Reality W., appellant. State of Nebraska, appellee,

         1. Juvenile Courts: Appeal and Error. An appellate court reviews juvenile cases de novo on the record and reaches its conclusions independently of the juvenile court's findings.

         2. Statutes: Judgments: Appeal and Error. The meaning of a statute is a question of law, which an appellate court resolves independently of the trial court.

         3. Statutes: Appeal and Error. Appellate courts will adhere to the plain meaning of a statute absent a statutory indication to the contrary.

         4. Juvenile Courts: Parental Rights. The foremost purpose and objective of the Nebraska Juvenile Code is the protection of a juvenile's best interests, with preservation of the juvenile's familial relationship with his or her parents where the continuation of such parental relationship is proper under the law.

         5. Appeal and Error. An alleged error must be both specifically assigned and specifically argued in the brief of the party asserting the error to be considered by an appellate court.

          Appeal from the Separate Juvenile Court of Lancaster County: Roger J. Heideman, Judge. Affirmed.

          Joe Nigro, Lancaster County Public Defender, and Margene M. Timm for appellant.

          John M. Ward, Deputy Lancaster County Attorney, and, on brief, Julie Mruz for appellee.

          Heavican, C.J., Miller-Lerman, Cassel, Stacy, Funke, Papik, and Freudenberg JJ.

         [302 Neb. 879] FUNKE, J.

         Reality W. appeals from the order of the separate juvenile court of Lancaster County adjudicating her as being "habitually truant [from] school."[1] Reality argues that she has defenses to adjudication under Neb. Rev. Stat. §§ 79-209(2)(b) (Reissue 2014) and 43-276(2) (Reissue 2016). Because we do not find either statutory defense to be applicable based on the record, we affirm.


         On April 12, 2018, the State filed a petition alleging that Reality, then age 15, was habitually truant from school between September 1, 2017, and March 7, 2018. Reality, along with her mother, Marketa S., appeared before the court on May 8, 2018, and entered a denial of the allegations. The court held a formal adjudication hearing on June 18 at which all parties were present. Two employees of the Lincoln Public Schools were called by the State as witnesses to testify regarding the school district's attendance policy and practices, Reality's attendance record, and the steps that were taken to address Reality's attendance issues before referring the matter to the county attorney's office.

         School's Policy and Practice

         The State offered testimony from a school attendance technician. She explained that the school uses an administrative computer program called Synergy, which maintains student records, attendance records, and records of contacts made with students and parents. Synergy also contains a registry of addresses and telephone numbers for students and parents, information which parents report to the school district at the beginning of each school year.

         [302 Neb. 880] The teachers use Synergy to record a student's attendance at the beginning of each class period. The Synergy program utilizes attendance codes for truancy, tardiness, parent-acknowledged absence, administrator or counselor meeting, medical, school activity, or illness. Absences for truancy and illness and parent-acknowledged absences are considered unexcused absences. Synergy generates and sends automated "[s]tage letters" to parents when a student accumulates 5, 10, 15, and 20 days of unexcused absences. In addition, Synergy sends an automated telephone call to parents on the day a student has an unexcused absence for one or more classes. The call is sent to the telephone number provided by the parents and stored by the school in Synergy.

         The State also offered testimony from Lucas Varley, a school counselor who works with attendance issues. He testified that once a student accumulates 5 to 10 days of unexcused absences, Varley will make personal telephone calls to the student's parent for the purpose of scheduling a collaborative plan meeting. He calls the telephone number from Synergy that the parent has provided. He testified that when he calls a student's home, he identifies himself, explains that he is calling to set up a meeting to address the student's attendance issues, and leaves his contact information.

         He testified that he makes three attempts to call a student's home to schedule a collaborative plan meeting with a parent. If a meeting has not been scheduled with a parent after the third telephone call, Varley attempts to schedule a meeting by preparing a letter that the school attendance technician sends to the home. If a parent is unwilling to answer or respond to the efforts to schedule a meeting, Varley will hold a collaborative plan meeting without the parent or guardian present.

         During a collaborative plan meeting, the attendees discuss the student's barriers to attendance and possible resources to address the barriers. They do so while utilizing a collaborative plan report prepared by Lincoln Public Schools and a community resource letter provided by the Lancaster County [302 Neb. 881] Attorney's office. If a parent or guardian attends the meeting, he or she will sign the collaborative plan report and receive a copy of the community resource letter. If a parent or guardian does not attend the meeting, the collaborative plan report and community resource letter are mailed to the parent or guardian. Varley will then again attempt to contact the parent or guardian after the meeting is held by sending a letter which explains that he would like to hold a meeting at the school and asks the parent or guardian to contact him immediately. Varley records his efforts to contact parents and guardians on a Synergy contact log, which was received into evidence; in addition, he records his efforts on a separate county contact log, which was received into evidence as a separate exhibit.

         Reality's Attendance Record

         According to the Synergy attendance report received into evidence, between September 1, 2017, and March 7, 2018, Reality had unexcused absences in 274 class periods. Synergy converts periods into days by dividing the number of unexcused absences by the number of classes in which the student is enrolled. Reality was enrolled in 4 class periods per day during this time, and therefore, the 274 class periods of unexcused absences equated to 6814 days of unexcused absences. From this total, 67/4 days were classified as truancies and 1 day was classified as a parent-acknowledged absence.

         The court received into evidence additional Synergy records which indicated that "Stage one, two, three, [and] four letters" were sent to Reality's home on September 25, October 5 and 24, and November 1, 2017, respectively. In addition, Varley testified that he called Reality's home on December 5 and left a message; that he called Reality's home on December 19 and spoke with Marketa, confirming that the school had the correct telephone number for Reality's home, but Varley was ...

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