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Last week a group of parents and students from Kansas City and St. Louis told members of both the House and Senate Education Committees that families need more school options in Missouri.
The group was testifying in favor of two bills, HB2068 and SB707, which would create scholarship funds to help more families choose a school that works for their children’s needs.
Shantelai Pettit, a single parent from Kansas City, said she wants better options for her three-year-old son than she experienced when she moved to Missouri as a child.
“I moved to Kansas City from California, and the school I attended in fifth grade in Kansas City was being taught what I learned in third grade in California,” she said. “I felt like I was dumbed down by staying in public school because we were not aware of any other school options that would be affordable.
“I didn’t feel like I was prepared for college,” she added. “I am a single parent now with a three-year-old son and I want him to have better options than I had.”
St. Louis parent Sandra Krausz told legislators that her son had faced bullying in a number of public schools in St. Louis, noting that if she had access to a scholarship she would send her son to a private school.
“I would use it to shield him from the trauma that he’s been exposed to at several different public schools,” she said. “We only have two middle schools in the entire south city where we live, which leaves us no option.
“Both schools have a 90 percent failure rate. Also, both schools have violent gangs that have attempted to initiate my son since he was nine years old,” explained Krausz. “I won’t allow him to go to either one. If I have to home-school him and that’s my only option left I will. Being able to send my child to a private school would give him more opportunities to realize his goals. Being able to learn in an environment free from bullying, violence, and fear would allow my son to thrive.”
Naiah Lee, a St. Louis student who has faced bullying from other students and public school staff, said she needs more school options right now.
“I was bullied and assaulted by teachers and students,” she said. It started with peers picking on me because I talked too white and called me Oreo. They said I needed to choose if I wanted to be black or white. I started to change myself so that I would be more acceptable to them. I changed my speech, attitude, and my style of clothing. I felt as if I was doing okay until I was assaulted by a student.”
Instead of being protected by school staff, the assault was just the beginning of Naiah’s problems.
“A guard grabbed me from behind and threw me backward to the ground, fully restraining my arms and leaving the attacker to have the full ability to jump on top of me and continue to hit me,” said Lee. “I was suspended for a week. When my mom spoke out about me being bullied and assaulted I was targeted by the teachers and the principal.
“I would be picked on for the smallest incident,” she said describing an incident when she was sick with a 102-degree temperature and had to run out of a classroom to throw up in a bathroom. “The next day when I came back to school they put me in ISS in-school suspension for 17 days. Many classmates of mine and many friends of mine have been through the same situations. But people are so scared to speak out because they’re afraid they’re gonna be targeted like I was. Please pass this bill so that I can have the opportunity to go to a private school or receive funding for homeschooling.”
“I strongly feel that if I had the option to utilize a scholarship account my daughter would not have been forced to endure this trauma,” said Naiah’s mom, DelRio Swink-Lee. “Public schools are in crisis. We need options for our children. I am a parent who has always been involved in all three of her children’s educational experiences for over 30 years
“I want an equal playing field for everyone,” added Swink-Lee. “We have to give parents a choice. Now is the time for parents to have a choice on how they want their children educated. Give us a chance to do that.”