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Dad wins fight to get sick son transferred to smaller school.

Source: The Herald-Mail
August 13, 2009

HAGERSTOWN — The father of a 9-year-old boy with cystic fibrosis has won a months-long quest to have Washington County Public Schools officials allow his son to attend a smaller school.

Jamie Griffith of Hagerstown said last week that he believed school officials would be jeopardizing the health of his son Breece if they continued to refuse to let the youngster transfer from Bester Elementary to the nearby Emma K. Doub School for Integrated Arts and Technology.

Griffith said his son’s cystic fibrosis increases the chances of Breece getting seriously ill. A larger school with more students means more germs, creating a greater risk of illness, he said.

Cystic fibrosis is an inherited disease that primarily affects the digestive and respiratory systems. The disease causes the body to produce abnormally thick mucous that blocks the airways and can lead to serious respiratory infections.

Griffith said he made an oral request to school officials before the 2008-09 school year that Breece be transferred from Bester Elementary School, which has a projected enrollment of 496 students, to Emma K. Doub, with a projected enrollment of 265 students.

Griffith said the request was denied and Breece started the 2008-09 school year at Bester Elementary, but Griffith took Breece out of school in November for health reasons. Breece was home-schooled for about a month by a teacher provided by the school system, then he returned to Bester in December, but got sick again in January, his father said.

A doctor at the Cystic Fibrosis Center at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore sent school officials a letter dated Jan. 28, 2009, that recommended the transfer from Bester be granted, Griffith said.

In the letter, Dr. Shruti M. Paranjape wrote: “After he began school in Sept. 2008, a 7 percent to 8 percent decline in lung function was noted, even after two courses of oral antibiotic for a pulmonary exacerbation ... As a result of Breece’s medical needs ... we feel that it is appropriate to grant this reassignment.

“Our hope is that you will be able to find a smaller school environment for Breece that will not compromise his health and will better address his educational needs,” the letter says.

But that transfer request was denied, Griffith said, and Breece was home-schooled for the rest of the school year.

John Davidson, director of student services for Washington County Public Schools, said Wednesday he is not permitted to talk about individual cases, but school officials followed the proper procedures with Breece.

School policy states that “each student shall attend the appropriate school in his or her district. However, a custodial parent/guardian may request permission for a student to attend a school in another WCPS attendance area” for several reasons, including if “significant hardship is deemed to exist by the principal and director of student services.”

Griffith said he filed a written request early this month to have Breece transferred for the 2009-10 school year, but that request also was denied.

He said he wasn’t aware of the requirement that paperwork had to be filed between Feb. 1 and April 1, and he admitted that he missed that deadline.

The Herald-Mail first asked schools spokesman Richard Wright about the situation last week. On Tuesday, a school system employee went to the Griffiths’ home to fill out paperwork regarding Breece’s transfer.

Davidson called the family Thursday to say the transfer had been granted, Griffith said.

Breece was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when he was about 1 year old, Griffith said. Since then, the disease has caused Breece to be hospitalized on numerous occasions.

Griffith said the family could have continued to home-school Breece, but felt that would not have been as rewarding for his son.

“We (wanted) him to get an education at a school,” Griffith said. “I’m not a teacher, and my wife’s not a teacher ... I even told them I would drive him there and pick him up.”

Breece said Thursday he is looking forward to the first day of school next week.

“I wanna make friends,” he said. “I want to meet my teachers.”