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Last Updated: 02/01/2018

 Inspirational Stories

An Open Letter to the School Board

by Debi Lewis, Morgantown, WVa, December 5, 2002


Board of Education
Monongalia County Schools
13 South High Street
Morgantown WV 26508

While you have heard from many others recently on the issue of my son Tucker's attendance at his neighborhood elementary school, you have not yet heard from me. There is a very good reason for that.  When I have felt the need to write to you in the past, and on more than one occasion, I have never received a response. Not one.

I had given up on the Monongalia County Board of Education being anything other than a rubber-stamp body for whatever practices and policies the school administration chose to endorse. After all, there are those among the school administration who come from very influential families. How very easy it must be for you to close your minds and your hearts just go with the flow.


Maybe you've even been able to convince yourself that what you're implicitly sanctioning by your silence is for the best. Or, maybe when you're alone with your conscience, things are not so well defined.

But something happened today that persuaded me to give it another shot.


Late this afternoon, my husband took Tucker's younger brother & sister outside to play in the snow. That same snow also prevented Tucker's aides & therapists from coming today. Thus, I found myself alone with Tucker. That is a rare event in our home, which is typically subject to a constant parade of friends, family,  aides, therapists, respite care, etc.


Confronted with this opportunity, I couldn't procrastinate any longer. I finally worked up the courage to tell Tucker about the hearing officer's decision.

I talked and talked ... and talked and talked and talked. I told him about the incredible community support for his struggle. I told him about the 600+ signatures collected on petitions within Monongalia County in less than one week. I told him about the letters of support received from as far away as Oregon, Colorado, and California. I told him about the hundreds of e-mails we'd received, including those from the two most respected special education experts in the nation. I told him about his dedicated friends, heroes all, who spent 11 days and nights chained to a flagpole because they believe in him. I told him about the middle school kids who braved the threat of expulsion to deliver cards & gifts to those protesters. I told him about the parents who brought their kids back to Cheat Lake Elementary School after hours to learn first-hand what was going on, then came back the next night with hot chocolate or extra blankets. I told him about the strong case we presented on his behalf and of those who came to the hearing in silent support. Then, I told him that in spite of it all there were still a few people who insisted that he must go to school away from his family and friends, and that unfortunately, those few people were making the rules.


Finally, I just ran out of steam. I laid my head on his chest and simply said, "I'm sorry."

It was at that point that Tucker lifted his arms & gave me a hug. This child, who the school "experts" would have you believe lacks any volitional movement, gave me a hug. This child, who the school "experts" would   have you believe is unable to communicate in any meaningful way, expressed himself quite clearly. This child, who the school "experts" would have you believe is unable to understand what's going around him, displayed extraordinary empathy & selflessness. Profound? Yes, that is undoubtedly profound! But not in the way that the school "experts" would have you believe.


Through my tears, I eagerly looked around the room for someone anyone in order to exclaim, "Did you SEE that? Did you?" Of course, we were still alone. That precious moment was ours alone. I am compelled to share it with you, for you have the power to bring about change. Changes in policy and procedure and philosophy. Changes long overdue in Monongalia County.


Every parent should be blessed with a child of such exceptional abilities!  You see, Tucker teaches. He teaches peace. He teaches acceptance. He teaches patience. He teaches perseverance, joy, tolerance, compassion, and strength. He asks little and gives much. You could learn a lot from Tucker.


Next week the elementary schools in Monongalia County Schools celebrate "Everybody Counts" a disability awareness event. Ask yourself why such an event is even necessary. The kids can smell the hypocrisy. Which do you think they will emulate what is preached, or what is practiced? 


You've been told that you can't afford to educate all children in their communities? I say you can't afford NOT to! Which is frugal: The program that plants the seeds of inequality, or the program that nurtures the character of tomorrow's leaders? These children will be policymakers when you reach an age where remaining in your home or in your community may be of utmost importance to your well-being. We will all reap what you sow.


We are challenging you to see past the bureaucratic double-talk. Improve the effectiveness of public education by embracing diversity. Invest in all of our tomorrows. Teach all children how to live, love, and learn in harmony everyday. That is the ultimate lesson, and it is one that can only be taught  by example.

With all due respect,

Debi Lewis

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