In the clear

Glenn County couple absolved in truancy case

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Orland mom Shannon Anderson jubilantly declared herself a “free woman” after forgery charges against her and her husband related to a doctor’s note for a sick child were dismissed by a Glenn County judge.

As the CN&R reported in its March 25 issue, the charges against Shannon and William “Jamie” Anderson were based on the allegation that they had altered the date on a doctor’s note to get their 8-year-old son excused from school. The Andersons deny altering the note. On May 12, Glenn County Superior Court Judge Peter Twede dismissed all related charges, and some of the many supporters of the Andersons who attended the Orland hearing cheered the ruling.

Shannon Anderson, 37, hoped it would be the end of the two-month nightmare that began when Orland police officers handcuffed her on her porch and hauled her to Glenn County Jail. Her husband posted her bail, and after she was freed, he was arrested. The case was financially and emotionally depleting for the Andersons, who are still paying off their bail bill.

Their attorney, Helen Duree, said the judge dismissed the criminal charges because the law that was allegedly broken—Penal Code 132—was intended to protect the veracity of legal proceedings rather than notes used for public-school attendance programs. And the truancy laws, she added, were never intended to be used against children like Logan Anderson.

The Andersons’ son Logan had racked up 24 absences when Shannon Anderson submitted the note in question to Orland’s Fairview School, but most of his missed days were because the boy suffers from severe asthma. Duree said she personally examined the note and found no evidence of tampering.

“There’s nothing wrong with Logan’s grades,” Duree said. “This is all about the money and how far they will go to get it,” she added, referring to the state funding to schools that’s based on daily attendance.

Glenn County Assistant District Attorney Dwayne Stewart, who prosecutes truancy cases, stood by his decision to file charges and said he hadn’t decided whether to pursue the case further. “I have 60 days to decide what to do,” Stewart said. “I can appeal, refile or do nothing.”

Stewart said he typically prosecutes about 15 truancy cases a year for Orland Unified School District, but rarely files felony charges. The Anderson case was different, he said, because it and another recent case dealt with “forged and faked doctors’ notes.”

Orland Unified says it requires doctors’ notes after a student has 10 absences—even if they were excused absences. And it employs a truancy officer.

Stewart said the judge’s decision was based on his reluctance to consider a school capable of “investigation” in the legal sense alluded to by PC 132, which defines felony forgery. But Stewart said one of the jobs of the school district’s truancy officer is, in fact, to forward cases prepared for prosecution.

If it was true that Logan Anderson had a medical condition causing his absences, “the school has ways of dealing with that,” Stewart said.

But the case was rife with problems.

Attorney Duree says Fairview should have placed Logan on a special study plan available to children covered under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Furthermore, she says that at a meeting with Stewart, the prosecutor incorrectly claimed Logan’s father had a substantial “rap sheet” based on something that was “pulled off the Internet” for someone with the same name.

“It was not at all our William Anderson,” Duree said.

When Duree agreed to represent the Andersons, she assumed it would be “a simple thing to work this out.” She was “just shocked” when Stewart told her the experience would teach the Anderson children to “respect the law.”

Duree argued that using the law to teach a lesson is an abuse. “I’m totally against parents who don’t send their children to school,” Duree said. “I’m very firm on truancy. But there are ways this is supposed to be handled.”

Duree welcomed the judge’s ruling as “wonderful,” called the charges against the Andersons “legal bullying,” and said the school policy that tripped up the Andersons was “all about the money.”

“We now have a severely emotionally damaged family,” Duree said. “It’s really crazy—one day they’re living a normal life, and the next day the children see their parents taken away in handcuffs.…”

Another Orland couple, Anthony and Cherrie Hazlett, are facing similar charges in a case that’s pending. They, too, are accused of altering the date on a doctor’s note for an absent child.

Duree said she’s concerned there’s been no visible change in school-district policy. “The same thing could happen to another set of parents tomorrow,” she said. “There’s been nothing … that would make Orland parents feel safer.”