Lying to an Arrogant State

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Dear Parent:

Your child’s success is important to us…(She) has had at least 3 days unexcused absences (sic) since the beginning of the  school year… state law requires parents to have their children attend school unless the child is ill, has a medical appointment, is attending the funeral of an immediate family member, or …an authorized religious activity. ( Cal. Ed. Codes: 46010.46014.18200.48205.48260.48290)… By law, absences for most other reasons are unexcused. … a child is truant if the student has an unexcused absence and/or is more than 30 minutes tardy three or more days in one school year.  … Your child is now considered truant… If the pattern continues we are required to hold a School Attendance Review Board (SARB) hearing and you and your child may face penalties for failure to comply with the state law.  These include referrals to the District Attorney, Juvenile Court, student work permit and drivers (sic) license sanctions and/or involuntary school transfers…”

Sincerely, Xxxxxx  Yyyyyyy,

Coordinator, Attendance Improvement/S.A.R.B. ( bold emphasis is mine.)

I had once foolishly confessed to the tape recorded non person, somwhere in the school recorder, that our youngest child would be absent to attend a family gathering; and on another occasion for two days for her sister’s graduation from USC. Thereafter I received the above notice by mail. Our daughter is a very good student, but, to judge from the rather abrasive notice, whether a child is succeeding academically seems irrelevant to an arrogant state that even claims the right to determine which deaths, and which religious activities are proper.

It’s pretty hard to change the law on the spur of the moment or to convince a law-abiding public school employee to break the letter of that law. The parent who actually has responsibility for the whole child, or who actually takes into account much touted but little respected Family Values, may find it best to invent an  acceptable death or illness in the child’s best interest to avoid the effect of a well-intended  but arrogantly and stupidly enacted law.

Parental Conclusion # 1: It is wise to lie to school authorities in order to spend the day with your child for non approved religious or family matters, or the death of a non approved person.

Dear Parent,

…‘III-EL-4b states that  each student whose home language is other than English as determined on the HLS ( Home Language Survey)… has (to have) been assessed within 30 school days of initial enrollment  in English comprehension, speaking, reading, and writing using a state-designated instrument. Each district has established a process by which reading and writing assessments are to be made, including specification of criteria, instruments, procedures, and standards appropriate to each grade level… Well, you can imagine the rest; it goes on; this is only section III EL (EL for English Language? Egregious Law? No. English Learners.), section 4-b.

The quotation above is from the “Coordinated Compliance Review Training Guide 2000-2001, State Program for English Learners, page 164:  (compliance by school districts).” The law,  ( or regulation? Same difference!)  like the title, is written in the foreign tongue of professional educators and legislators, but the idea can vaguely be grasped by those limited to American- English. I can imagine but hope never to suffer the way this must look in translation to Spanish.

We had moved to a new school district where our daughter might participate in an academically desirable school program that would best meet her needs. In order to change school districts, of course, the proper forms had to be filled out; there, her own ingenuously truthful answers indicated she spoke Spanish at home.  She was completely fluent in two languages having lived, a few months at a time, a total of three years in South America while growing up. The records were clear; she had been a straight A student K through 8 here in Sacramento, not on the planet Mars.  Nonetheless, she confessed the educational sin of Spanish speaking; therefore an English Proficiency Test, very likely an EPT, was required by law before transferring to a new school. But to take that test, she, and we, would miss our long reserved and paid for flight to South America, and our whole family’s coach fares were non-refundable.  After consulting with the staff at the new school, who were very sympathetic but unable to violate the law or ‘regs, it became clear that the only practical way to resolve this problem was to declare that her entry indicating Spanish as a home language had been an error.

Parental Conclusion # 2: Lie to an Arrogant State if you are a student fluent and skilled in English as well as another language.

The following is adapted from a Child Protection Agency Report:

‘ The accused is a Mexican-American,  Odiseo, whose step daughter Justcia had reported him for sexual molestation. Justi’s mother, Ingrid, is Swedish but speaks some English with a heavy accent, while the stepfather speaks little; we used an interpreter. Ingrid’s social and cultural and language limitations make it hard for her to deal with her older daughter, who is the most linguistically acculturated member of the family.  The case is already ten months old; for more than a year Justi has repeatedly run away, been in juvenile hall, and run away from there also. On the streets she has become skilled in drug use and prostitution. When returned to her home she herself had previously called CPS about abuse by her stepfather; she has been sent once to live with an aunt in Florida, but was sent back home within two weeks. In addition to Justicia there are three other children:  Two of Ingrid’s youngsters ages 5 and 4, and an  18-month old, allegedly, ( as the current legalistic patois goes,)  a child of the accused.   When we arrive, the middle two children are at preschool and kindergarten. Odiseo, not now allowed at home when the children are present, will join  us at 11:30. No one seems to know where Justi is.

‘Ingrid answers the door immediately, carrying a toddler with luminous Moorish,   Nordic, and Native American features.  She confirms (or alleges?) that Odieso is the baby’s father. Her ex-husband lives in Bellingham, Washington, a sometimes-employed fisherman. Ingrid has never suspected nor witnessed any sexual abuse, or violence from Odiseo.  Justi has threatened to kill the younger children during outbursts of rage. On examination, no physical evidence of sexual abuse had been found, though Justi’s description of the incidents were vivid. The following is from our tape recording of the visit. Where the recording is not clear, or my comments are needed I have used parentheses.

“How are you getting on economically, Ms. Anderson?”

” Not well. Odi quit his evening job. I’ve been able to do a little extra; my mother lend us some money;  much as she can; Lars send no alimony; nobody find him, anyway.”

” Why did Odiseo quit his other job?”

” To take evening classes. The (child abuse) charge make that necessary, they say.”  (She lights up a Marlboro).” Justi refuse to go to school, run away, and talk awful, act awful. Threat to kill the kids. She was send to juvenile hall, but run away.  Then call here and demand to come home. We can’t refuse because  she say we are liable to be put in jail. She is minor. We take her back, same thing happen  again.” (Ingrid  is  smoking and the baby coughs. I ask if I can hold the infant while she smokes.  Ingrid flushes and quickly puts out the Marlboro.)

”  I usually don’t smoke with her close! I know the problem, Dr. Flores say it make her bronchitis bad.” (I  take the  baby but she cries so much I   give her back. )

“Perhaps Justi’s behavior is related to abuse; maybe that’s how she deals with it. Do you think so? ”

” I don’t.  Maybe…” ( Here she breaks off and bolts  from the room, as the baby screams.  The doorbell rings; Odiseo appears. At 40-something he’s about 10 years older than Ingrid, and has a candid way of looking you in the eye. The interpreter is not needed now as he has been in the US since age 16, is very comfortable with his English, which seems  somehow stilted, and much better than I’d expect.

He had 2 years of high school in Mexico.  I ask about his past and his view of the accusations.)

“I was born in a Sonoran high desert town whose name died when the mine closed after WW II.  Its only remaining attribute was proximity to the border 150 km to the North, so I walked to Arizona. Little by little I joined a pool of unskilled workers.  I got a  “Green Card”, then  citizenship, went to night school and took correspondence courses. I fell in love with Penny.  That’s Ingrid:  I call her that, like in Penelope.  We have a  plan, how we will get through this trouble with Justi. We have a love child of our own.  Maybe two can live cheaper than one, but not five, so  Penny used to have some occasional  alimony, and intermittent cash income for housework. We were OK.  I had a second dead end minimum wage job; our lives seemed hard but good.”  (He gets up and walks away abruptly, turning back with a mixture of anger and bitterness on his face.)

” I love my baby and my boys like my own. But I  just can’t survive here. It is good, I think, that you help children.  You speak for them. But no one; no one!  speaks for me. In this beautiful country with justice for all, I’m punished because I’m accused. I must quit my night job to attend classes. I must stay in a homeless shelter when my older children are home.  I am blackmailed by a child, because of the power the law places in her hands.  I must be separated from my other children, and the woman I love. We’re all victims. Of Justice! Penny and I have made up our minds, and said our goodbyes. I’m leaving.  I really don’t know why I came to his interview. The last 20 years of my life seem to have been wasted. Now my only hope is to become an illegal immigrant again; this time in Mexico. Maybe… I hope some of the skills I have learned here will help me earn enough to rescue my family. From Justice!” Without another word Odiseo kisses his wife and the baby and leaves.

My report doesn’t reflect all this drama very well, though I tried; it is as objective as possible, as required. Six weeks after my visit, Odiseo has not returned to work, nor reported to CPS. Justi again appeared, and stayed with her mother until recurring violent episodes, usually directed at the smaller children, required that she be returned to juvenile hall; the most recent attempt at foster placement failed. One can’t help wondering if accusations were used  as weapons to control and intimidate the parents. If so, it worked. In my mind there is no doubt. Fortunately, now that Odiseo is gone,  a compassionate State provides Ingrid and her other children with welfare benefits. But, frankly, doesn’t that seem irrational?

Lesson # 3:  If you are underage, you should lie  to the State to control parents.


More than 2300 years ago, Plato described   the abuses and failures of democracy in his dialogue, The Republic. His prescription for the State seems to have been ingested and regurgitated  by the USSR and Castro’s Cuba, with the resulting societal costs, as well as social and economic inadequacy. Judging by Plato’s critique of Democracy, of course, there may be little that is really new or shocking about the remedies prescribed above.  It’s not that I can agree very often with Plato, or his mouthpiece Socrates, but I do suggest, in these three sketches, that in a wealthy democracy, devolving into a paternalistic state, many people must learn to  wield the sword of the useful lie, often in self defense; and they sometimes do so in abusive and antisocial ways.  A corollary to Lesson # 3 is evident. A woman without a husband can secure an income by having as many children without a father as possi ble.  You can be a legal Dorthea Puente.  Thanks Platonists.

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