NY State Woman Finds OCFS ' Policy Brief Does Not Fully Address the Issues

"What their brief does not begin to explore is false filings of educational neglect charges, and why there are no investigations into this aspect. " ~ Rhonda Mangus, North Tonawanda , NY
By: Metro Media Strategic Consulting Group
Oct. 25, 2010 - PRLog -- A North Tonawanda mother who was falsely charged with "educational neglect"  after her gay teen received death threats at North Tonawanda High School in 2005 is perplexed by a recent policy brief released by the New York Office of Child and Family Services.   The brief,  which was released October 25,  2010,  states that the Office intends to review the state's policy concerning  charges of educational neglect involving a minor's absence from school.

Rhonda Mangus' plight began when her gay teen son,  Michael,  was bullied at age 14 while attending North Tonawanda High in 2005.   There was a strong anti-gay bullying aspect to the taunting,  which culminated in an expletive-laced written death threat.    Making matters worse,  Michael's attempts to form a gay-straight alliance club were met with ridicule by faculty.  As any concerned mother would be likely to do under such circumstances,  Mangus made the decision to remove  the youth from school.

Although not one but two medical professionals never cleared the teen to return to school,  Mangus was charged with "educational neglect".  "Michael was never truant,  and the charges constituted a false filing.",  she asserts.

Wishing to have the charges removed,  Mangus engaged in a lengthy and grueling  five year  battle which involved filings to the Appellate and Supreme Courts of New York.  She received pro bono advisement from high-profile Chicago attorney and gay rights advocate Jay Paul Deratany,  and his colleague Nathan Polum.    But in the end,  the rulings always ended with the assertion that the charges remain in place.  

Michael eventually went on to obtain his GED with stellar scores,  and now works as a stage performer in the U.S. and Canada.  But he and his mother do not believe that justice was served in their case.  

From the briefing of October 25,  2010,  written by the Vera Institute of Justice in partnership with Casey Family Programs,   the Office of Child and Family Services of the State of New York proposes:

". . . [that] the state develop a new non-punitive approach to teenage absenteeism that is rooted in research on adolescent behavior and school engagement.  The brief found that the child protective system—the network of state and local agencies that handle allegations of child abuse and neglect—is not well equipped to help teenagers improve their school attendance. At times, it can make matters worse."http://uticadailynews.com/ny_world_national/17842-OCFS-Re...

The last statement seems a joke to Rhonda Mangus.  Not only does she feel that Gay-Straight Alliances and firm anti-bullying policy should be the norm in public schools, but that she became the target of charges is unethical and a cruel insult to injury,  and that such cases ought to be addressed and resolved justly.   "There has been no accountability at all."  she says ,  "no serious attempt, or indeed any at all,  of a probe or inquiry into what transpired, and what the motivating factors were."  

The report on the  OCFS brief continues:

"In some cases, educational-neglect allegations result in a formal neglect petition against the parent or guardian in family court—not because the investigation uncovered maltreatment concerns, but because the efforts of the parent/guard ian and the child protective agency have not improved the student’s attendance.
If New York amended its laws to remove educational neglect of teenagers from the jurisdiction of the child protective system it would not be alone; half of the states—including California, Florida, Illinois, and Texas—do not recognize teen agers’ school absences as grounds for a neglect finding." http://uticadailynews.com/ny_world_national/17842-OCFS-Releases-Policy-Brief-New-York-States-Responses-Educational-Neglect.html

To Mangus and more than a few reasonable others,  a greater issue is in fact a question:  Why there seems to be no method of investigation in the filing of charges which are false and unprovoked. And this in itself is a compelling reason for her to keep searching until it is answered.

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