Reimagining Education

School choice success: A parent’s battle leads to a happy graduation

[EDITOR’S NOTE: CEAM has always worked with parents from across Missouri to fight for better education options for their children. While we still have a long way to go before parents have the power they should in Missouri, it is always wonderful when one of our parent advocates sees their kids really excel and succeed. Such was the case this year when one of our most dedicated parent advocates, Lisa Smith, saw her daughter graduate from high school ready to succeed in college. She has thankfully shared the story of her daughter’s journey through a complicated education landscape in the guest blog below. Congratulations!]

My journey of putting my daughter through her high school years while living in an unaccredited school district has not been the easiest but we have made it through.

My daughter is a 2020 graduate and I am very proud of her.

She had perseverance in the face of obstacles.

First let me tell you a little bit about myself. My name is Lisa and I live in Riverview Gardens School District. I am an education reform advocate. I advocate for all Missouri students to have access to a quality education. I believe that school choice is paramount for all Missouri families. In the 2016-2017 school year, my daughter was entering high school. During that time the school district had been without accreditation for more than ten years. There was a law in effect called The Student Transfer Program that allowed students who reside in an unaccredited school district to attend an accredited school outside of the neighborhood. I chose to send my daughter to a school outside of our neighborhood. I did not have a choice, that was my only option.

During the 2015-2016 school year, I email the Special Appointed School Board of the Riverview Gardens School District in regards to incidents that happened to my child and other things I witnessed around the school as a concerned parent volunteer. I never receive a response back from the board. One month after sending the email a safety director from the district came to my home and hand-delivered a letter to me stating that I was banned from entering all district properties due to bad behavior on school grounds. I could not believe it. I was so perplexed that the Riverview Gardens School District would falsify documents on a concerned parent and have me banned from all district properties. The situation broke my heart and caused my family and I pain and sleepless nights. After that, I never trusted RGSD to be the place or institution to educate my children. So I had no other option but to send my daughter to school outside of our neighborhood. I do believe that our children should attend school within their own neighborhood. But when you’re not welcome into the school that’s teaching your child tells you are not welcome becasue you have raised concerns, you do not have many choices.

So my daughter attended school outside of the neighborhood through the student transfer program. She excelled in her new school. She loved her new school. She also had friends from her neighborhood that attended school with her. She attended school outside of her neighborhood until her senior year. During my daughter’s senior year in high school, the student transfer program ended. My daughter was faced with having to return to the Riverview Gardens School District during her senior year. We could not imagine her spending her senior year in a school that she never attended, a district that I don’t trust with educating my children, a district that has caused my family and I stress and sleepless nights. But once again, we were faced with a harsh reality and had no choice except dealing with the Riverview Gardens School District. So I made the only decision I could and decided to take advantage of  Missouri’s new law called the Missouri Course Access Program (MOCAP) that offers online courses to any Missouri student who is enrolled in a public school.

Even though this decision gave us a way to keep my daughter out of a school we refused to attend, it was very difficult to get her enrolled. After several calls and trips to the administration building, it became clear that no one understood the law and they were very reluctant to enroll my daughter. It took me going up to the high school five times to get all of the paperwork and everything straight to get her in the program. I even had to call the virtual provider myself while I was in the office so they could explain to the district what their responsibilities were. At that point, it was well into October before she was enrolled in school. My daughter had no trouble catching up and even completing the program with additional credits for college.

No parent should have to go through so much trauma and so many challenges with a school district just to make sure their kids get a good education.  Thankfully I was able to combine several school choice programs to give my daughter an alternative to attending schools with the lowest test scores in the state. Without school choice, my daughter wouldn’t be where she is today, graduated, and ready for college.

But it should not be so hard. We were lucky to participate in the transfer program, but that is not an option for parents any longer. MOCAP provided a way for my daughter to complete her education outside of a brick-and-mortar school we refused to go back to, but participating in such a program should not take months of battling with school administrators. A concerned parent should not have to dedicate years of their lives to fighting for quality education for their children with the very system that is supposed to be providing. This is why Missouri needs to give parents more power to choose the best education for our children. 

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