One mom's battle to ensure her son's right to opt out of testing

This is the story of Gretchen Herrera, and her battle with her son’s charter school,  to allow him to opt out standardized testing. Her son Anthony attended the South Carolina Virtual Charter School, a branch of K12 Inc., one of the nation’s largest chains of for-profit charter schools.

Here is a petition you can sign against imposing high stakes tests in South Carolina. Here is Gretchen’s personal petition you can also sign. She writes: “I want his story known because I never want this to happen to another family.”

My son Anthony is a type 1 diabetic and has Asperger’s. School has been a struggle for him since 1st grade.

South Carolina Virtual Charter School seemed like a great place for my son to go after all of his troubles in brick and mortar schools. It was laid back and moved at his pace, but the best thing was he didn’t have to deal with bullies.

I have been fighting with the charter school since April, when I started to try and opt out Anthony from the South Carolina standardized testing program (PASS) . I had written several letters to Dr. Cherry Daniels (the dean) that went unanswered. I had spoken to my son’s endocrinologist and was warned taking that test could/would apply undue pressure to Anthony’s health. He also has type 1 diabetes, which would be exacerbated by the Asperger’s, causing him to have extremely high blood sugar. She had supplied me with a letter stating exactly that.

I had sent the medical letter to the charter’s head of exceptional children, Donna Strom, and was told it wasn’t acceptable. I was told that Anthony had to participate. I argued that his anxiety was high enough with the normal testing, and to put him in that kind of position over a test that means nothing to him was ridiculous. I was told by Ms. Strom that the SC Department of Education wouldn’t allow his medical letter as a viable waiver.

I contacted the SC Department of Education and spoke with one of their lawyers. First I was told I could be held liable for truancy and could face court and subsequent jail time for not allowing him to participate. When I pushed for the definition of participate I was told begrudgingly, I could show up with Anthony, have him sign in, and we could leave. This would fulfill my obligation for “participation”.

When I approached Ms. Strom with this information I was told, once again, it wasn’t good enough and that he had to participate. When I disagreed I was threatened by her, on behalf of SCVCS, that Anthony wouldn’t be allowed back should he not take the test.

Since Anthony really loved it there, I said I would allow him to come in and take it. Knowing this was against his doctor’s advice and my intuition, I gave in due to all of the threats. Anthony was given a great deal of accommodations, but I still didn’t want him to place himself in the position to get ill. Ms. Strom assured me he would be just fine and not to worry.

Anthony seemed to be quite at ease and was smiling when he went in. He came out 30 minutes later, hugged everyone and as we were walking out the door, he complained of a stomach ache and that he didn’t feel well. I checked his blood sugar when we got into the car. It was at 344! His blood sugar prior to that was in the normal range. It shot up over 200 points in 30 minutes and my son was sick because of it!

I asked him what happened. I said I thought he was okay with it. His said to me, “I was never okay with it Mom.” I asked him why he did it if he wasn’t, and he told me, “I wanted to make them happy. I didn’t want to let them down.” My child cared more about their feelings than they did about his health.

We were supposed to return Monday morning to finish another portion of the test. I took him to the testing site, signed him in, gave the teacher the medical letter and said we were opting out due to his health. I was told I had to write down what happened on the letter, and to sign it. I asked at that time, and even wrote on the letter, should we come back and sign in for the next two tests. I was told that wouldn’t be necessary and we were excused.

The following week I had gotten a call from Anthony’s homeroom teacher letting me know he didn’t show up for the testing and I was to bring him in for the make up testing. I told him what happened and how I had no intention of putting him through that again. I was told Anthony didn’t fulfill his responsibility and would not be allowed to come back the following year.

I had written multiple letters and the replies were very vague. I was later told the decision was left to Dr. Cherry Daniels so I wrote several letters to her. She had finally replied stating how he can come back as long as we complied with the testing.

I filed a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights (OCR) and explained everything to my case worker and they launched an investigation.

I had signed Anthony back up with SCVCS because time was running out for the reply from the OCR, and we knew Anthony couldn’t go back to the local brick and mortar. He was bullied relentlessly not just by the students but also by the teachers. Eventually one of the teachers was fired for having a child squirt my son to wake him when he fell asleep due to the medication I was told I had to put him on because she “just couldn’t handle him”. He started to cry and she jerked him up by his arm and forced him into a corner where he cried himself to sleep standing up!

Anthony started on classes and we were once again given an agreement from the school stating how we would follow the rules with grading, pictures for publicity, etc, and to let him take the PASS test. I refused the testing in writing although I agreed with everything else.

My son was well into his second month and was doing quite well. I even had a follow up on IEP to make sure he was able to get whatever it was he needed. On October the 8th I received a letter from SCVCS telling me he was being withdrawn on the 11th because I refused to allow him to take the PASS test. Even though my child was ill from taking this test, he was expelled from SCVCS for my refusal to let it happen again.

I was granted an inter-district transfer from our school district, due to the extenuating circumstances, and he is enrolled in a wonderful brick and mortar school with extensive knowledge of Asperger’s. His current school will not force him to take this test. It has accepted his endocrinologist’s letter and all precautions for any normal testing is being taken.  My case against SCVCS is still under investigation.

I will continue to fight against high stakes testing. It made my child ill and I will never let that happen again!

My suggestion: Stand up for your child and know there is harm in this test for all parties. We know our children better than anyone, and to let the education system dictate what is or isn’t best for them is ludicrous. Change has got to start from somewhere and it has to start with us. We can’t be afraid when our children are on the line.

If my methods are too radical, then at the very least let them Christmas tree the test. Go in, fill out bubbles randomly (even make a picture) and leave quickly and quietly. THAT will definitely fulfill any and ALL school’s requirements.

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