school leadership

I've Been Fighting for My Daughters Since 23 Weeks' Gestation, and I Won't Stop Now

Why don’t I get to go to school, Mommy?

That’s a hard question for a mom to have to answer for an 8-year-old.

As I write this piece, my twin daughters, Elly and Emmy, have missed the first seven days of school so far this year.

They were expelled from their school district days before school began, on the grounds that their parents falsely claimed the girls lived within district boundaries. The girls’ father and I are separated pending divorce and live in different homes.

They know Mike lives in the district. They know Mike and I have a 50/50 parenting agreement.

The district is making the claim that I had more parenting time than Mike did last year. They had a private investigator following us.

The law is intentionally vague about how much parenting time is required to claim residency in a district, so districts cannot do to families what our district has just done to us.

Our district knows about our other unique challenges. Mike is a floor nurse at Sherman Hospital, in the middle of a pandemic. They know that Elly has physical and intellectual disabilities. They know about Mike’s sick dad.

Our district has our paper trail: registration documents for the new school year, our parenting calendar and agreement, witness statements. We have provided everything they requested.

We asked for a meeting with the superintendent. We were denied. We asked for a hearing in front of the school board. That was denied because the girls are not enrolled in the district. Mind you, they were enrolled and all fees paid, until they were unenrolled — by the superintendent.

Every conversation we’ve opened was met with a simple, “Have your legal talk to our legal.”

To do this to any child is unimaginable. To do this to Elly is unconscionable. Elly was poised to be with the same teacher, same aides, same therapists, same children she was with last year. For a child like Elly, that kind of continuity is invaluable.

What will this year look like for her if she is thrown into a whole different school district, with all new people who do not know her, her needs or her capabilities?

So, here we are. All the other kids in our neighborhood are finishing their second week of school, while Emmy and Elly sit at home. Mike and I are continuing to try to advocate on their behalf, at great cost to all of us. As a mother who has had to fight for her children from the moment they entered the world, at 23-weeks gestation, this is a battle I never would have imagined.

Photo courtesy of the author.
Kristen Cwik
Kristen Cwik is a parent of twin daughters in Elgin, Illinois.

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