On December 10, 2022, Robert Davis graduated from Washington University with his Bachelor’s Degree.
It was a victory that has been two decades in the making.
Almost 20 years ago Robert was diagnosed with autism, just one year before he started his educational career in the Normandy school system.
His father, Paul Davis, was a single parent trying to find the best future for his son while supporting his family while driving a cab.
Paul says Robert first started to have issues with bullying in school when he was in Fifth Grade and those issues just continued to grow when Robert went to middle school.
“I went to the administration at the middle school even before school started and I tried to explain to them about how we had problems,” says Paul. “They felt like I was asking for special treatment. I would rather he be treated equally along with the rest of the students, but I would caution that being autistic he would have some issues navigating some things as fast as other students would. You would think it would take hold but it did not.”
In Seventh Grade, Robert came home with a bruised arm after another student crushed it between two desks. Then his bookbag got stolen at lunch.
Paul tried to file bullying charges with the Normandy Police Department but was told there was no law against bullying, so he reached out to local media and eventually was able to force the school system to guarantee a para for Robert for the rest of middle school.
But when it came time for Robert to start high school, Paul heard about a student at Normandy High School who had died after being punched in the chest at school.
“That’s when I said I would rather have Robert push carts at Schnucks before I would let him attend that school, I would rather him be alive than dead. I was not going to gamble on it,” Paul said.
Thankfully, that year students in the Normandy and Riverview Gardens school districts had other options through something called the transfer program, Missouri’s only form of public school open enrollment.
Under Missouri law, if a school district loses its accreditation, the district must pay for any student who wants to to attend a school in another district.
“When I heard about the transfer program I signed up immediately,” Paul said, adding that that meant Robert would be attending school in the Francis Howell School District which was both safer and much better academically for Robert.
“Before Robert was struggling with his academics and was bullied on a daily basis. Robert was getting F’s in math at Normandy and was now getting A’s in trigonometry at Francis Howell. He also had a D in language arts in the Seventh Grade. I can now proudly say he is getting an A,” Paul said when Robert was a sophomore at Francis Howell High. “I want the world to know that the transfer program works. I had my doubts at the beginning of last year when I made the decision to transfer my son Robert to the Francis Howell School District but now that we are in our second year I can say that it has made all the difference for my son’s future. Before every day was a struggle but now every day is a success.”
But making it to that second year did not come easily. After the first year of the program, before Robert started his sophomore year, Paul received a call saying the transfer program was ending.
“I about fell out of the bed,” said Paul. “I was hurt, I was devastated but I did not stop there. I said Robert you are not going back to Normandy.”
So the Davises drove out to St. Charles County and started looking for apartments so they could guarantee Robert would attend a quality school.
Robert and Paul also joined the movement fighting to make sure the transfer program would remain in effect, attending community meetings, and speaking out at school board meetings.
As a result of their efforts the transfer program was continued and Robert was able to finish his high school career at Francis Howell High, where he thrived.
That success resulted in a full scholarship to Washington University when Robert graduated.
“This was bigger than any dream I had for my son,” said Paul. “I feel very special that my son was one of the kids who endured the journey and came out okay.
“I just don’t know how to put it into words how happy I am,” said Paul. “I was very excited to see him walk across that stage on Dec. 10th and to see him sitting out in that crowd of green robes and knowing what it represents it was very special.”
Paul said that now that his son has graduated from Washington University, Robert is considering going back to help other students in the Normandy school district.
“He is thinking about substitute teaching in the Normandy school district to try to inspire some other kids who might be like him who for whatever reason are unsure of their ability he wants to help them like some of his teachers helped him,” said Paul. “If he is willing to give back and try to help someone I don’t know if it could be any better than that.”