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SEDLAR: Parent’s Hands Tied Due to ZIP Code – With Potentially Dire Consequences

Imagine you’re a single mom with two children in Delaware County.  Life is not easy.  Your son has mental health challenges, but your daughter seems to be thankfully faring well.  She’s an honor roll student with a circle of friends.  Then life deals you a blow where you must change your living arrangements.

The family moves to a new home in February and dutifully notifies your school district of the change of address.  The district tells you that your child can no longer attend their school because they’ve crossed the district boundary.

Begging the district school to please allow your child to finish their current school year as a sophomore with her friends, teachers, and schedule that she’s come to depend upon and with which she excels has no effect (despite offering to pay the taxes associated with that school’s district attendance).  The plea is refused, with the superintendent citing that the school board has no open enrollment policy allowing out of district students to attend. Your daughter is forced to leave her school, classes, teachers, and friends mid-year.

Already displaced, your child needs to find a safe place where she can continue her education – and you’re convinced that it cannot be the new district school due to safety concerns.  At this late time in the school year, funding for private schools has already been distributed and those schools are already well into the next year’s application and award process.  The nearby charter school states that your child doesn’t qualify to enroll as a sophomore, but rather a freshman.  Dealt so many recent blows and concerned for your child’s well-being, you choose cyber charter – the most accessible solution.

A saving choice at first, the beginning of the junior year brings with it a sense of isolation for your daughter – and with it come mental health challenges.  You’re willing to do whatever it takes to provide your child with an in-person option she so desperately needs.  Things have reached an unimaginable stress point, and you resort to taking your child with you to work for weeks so that she can be observed and prevented from harming herself due to a deep and significant depression.  The emergency room you took your daughter to for help tells you that there is no room in the depression treatment program.  You are terrified of what may happen if you aren’t paying constant attention.

Despite the work of those in law, education, legislature, and advocacy circles, the resolution comes too late.  Your daughter is hospitalized for weeks, followed by outpatient step down treatment and a return to the isolation of the only educational option available – cyber charter; but at least the educators at this program are willing to provide an Individualized Education Plan and closely monitor your child.  She can work towards credit recovery and possible enrollment in a brick-and-mortar charter school for next year as a senior and graduate as originally scheduled.

For now, your child is doing “okay” and seems to be in a slightly better place than in this past October.  She looks forward to possibly attending a brick-and-mortar charter school for her senior year where she can get the socialization that she needs.  But you’re still watchful, hoping that a repeat of last Fall doesn’t occur – that your child stays safe.

Our education system traps and fails children every day, and this scenario is all too common.  In this particular case, the very life of a child was placed in jeopardy – and saved by the heroic work of her devoted mom, but at great emotional, personal, financial, and family cost.

It’s likely that the officials will never know the life-threatening situation in which short-sighted and exclusionary, but permitted, policy placed this family.  But I do, and now so do you.  Hopefully, you feel the need to stand up, speak out, and help create change.  No student should feel so devoid of hope as to harm themselves, and no parent should have to helplessly watch it unfold.

In February, the No More Lines Coalition was announced, seeking open public school access for all students regardless of address, ensuring free public education for all families, and “unbundling” the education and housing markets.

What does that mean, exactly?  It means that a child can attend a STEM, arts, technical, or foreign language specialty school 2 miles away, or 2 blocks away.  It means that a child can attend a school closer to their parents’ work, rather than be tied to their home address.  It means opportunity for all children, no longer tied to the residential area they can afford, but rather to the education environment that’s best for them.  It means dreams can come true.