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Just a Neighbor Kid

Okay, this is not going to be about software. I could try to tie it in somehow, but…no. I could start up a separate blog somewhere, but…for one entry? No. I have to write this, and this is where it’ll go.

Names & such have been changed to protect the innocent. Those I consider guilty are here in an unedited form.

This is about a great kid in a bad spot, the Bonham Independent School District, and the Fannin County Juvenile Probation Department. They’re all in Texas. If you know anybody in the Fannin County government who might help, I would really appreciate anything you or they can do.

First things first: this kid (we’ll call her K) has not been convicted of a crime. She has been accused of an act I cannot believe she committed. (I’ve seen the evidence, and it is absurd to bother this kid on the strength of it–though I am unsure that the prosecutor is unaware. Oddly, he strikes me as a reasonable guy. This whole thing is weird.) That was sufficient, in Texas, to put her under the jurisdiction of a juvenile court. This means, for K, that she was removed from her mother’s home and placed in a Juvenile Detention Center. She is now living with some friends of mine and their son. We don’t know how long that will last, but she is very welcome in her temporary home.

How do I know she’s a great kid? My friends have known her for a couple of years now. Three or four days after one of my friends met her (she liked my friend’s bike and wondered whether she could take it for a ride), she found my friend’s purse outside with several hundred dollars in it. She brought it to the door. This act of conspicuous honesty is of course laudable in its own right, but there was another kid with her. This other kid has what I’ll call emotional issues. He’s kind of a stalker. K has been trying for years to help him learn how to behave, and this was just one of many examples my friend has given me of her attempts to “straighten him out.” K is 16, and thus tends to lose herself in video games, but she is great with their four-year-old son. They dance and sing. It’s…neat.

All right. Now it gets complicated. The thing is, this kid’s home life has not been good, and that–more, we think, than the charges against her–is why she was removed from her home. K’s mother is not capable of supervising her or enforcing the court’s restrictions. Mom is an alcoholic. She can’t read. I’ll be blunt and say she does not seem capable of rational thought. I think she needs adult supervision. Until recently, K and her aunt have tried to provide it. When she got out of control and my friends were in town, her aunt would often send K to stay with them.

K’s actual father is a real piece of work, but not–so far–especially relevant to all this. He hasn’t paid child support for years. My friend helped K’s mom get the Texas Attorney General’s office to try to collect some of it, but my understanding is that he’s somehow blocked that for the moment by letting them know K is not living with her mom at the moment. He has recently broken several promises to K that we know of, but nonetheless now says he wants K to live with him. I’d say I wonder why, but actually I don’t.

K was diagnosed with ADHD when she was 7 years old. Since then, she’s been on strong medication. She didn’t take it during summer breaks or on weekends. Given that they met her during the summer, my friends were extremely skeptical of the notion that she had a behavioral problem. But she explained: she took the pills so her mother could cash a disability check from Social Security for roughly $670/month. This was her mother’s only obvious (and somewhat legal) source of income. Or as K put it: I want my mom to have a house. She said her mom had coached her for her periodic evaluations, up to and including on one occasion the drawing of swastikas on her knuckles the night before. Also, the aunt? K and her mother have both told my friends that K’s aunt hits her mom. K feels her aunt will often restrain herself on K’s behalf–if K is present. So K is accustomed to feeling a certain level of responsibility. She is not happy to be away. You know what? I don’t blame her.

The drug. It’s called Concerta, and K doesn’t eat much when she takes it. My friend noticed this after K’s mom had pointed it out. Her mom then told K’s doctor in my friend’s hearing that she has no such problem. Also, K sits and stares for hours after taking it. Says she’s bored. Doesn’t behave that way otherwise. Mom told the doctor there was no such problem.

So, the school. K was picked up by the police during her third week at Bonham High School. She spent the next three weeks in a detention center (no charges had been filed, but an allegation had been made…welcome to Texas). After my friend got her out, the assistant principal decided that K would be placed in something called DAEP–a Disciplinary Alternative Education Program.

How’s that work? They pretend she’s still enrolled in her classes. She sits in a cubicle. She is not allowed to speak to other students. There are no class lectures, no class discussion. When she gets an assignment that involves a textbook, she is told she is not allowed to read the entire chapter, but only the bits that contain the relevant answers. She can read the rest “on her own time”…or she could if she had all the textbooks, which she doesn’t. There is a statutory 40% lab time requirement for her Biology class, but she has yet to see any lab equipment. Her PE class only happens if she’s “caught up” or if they decide to let her do it as a special treat. When she tried to find answers online, they punished her by requiring her to leave her laptop by the door for a few days. K has told my friends they feed her answers if she gets too far behind, and they have demonstrated to my friends a strong interest in making it appear that K is doing well…but much less interest in taking the time to actually teach her. Oh, and she gets three bathroom breaks a day, and has to log them.

This kid had no business being promoted to the 11th grade to begin with. I’ll leave off the details of her transcripts, but my friends are convinced she is suffering the cumulative effect of years of educational neglect. DAEP is not helping. She has real trouble with her assignments…though actually she just seems to require a bit of extra time and an occasional pat on the back for most of them. But where’s she going to get the extra time?

For months my friends tried to get K into an online high school. At her most recent hearing, the judge (who seems to be rational and sincerely concerned for K’s welfare) indicated she would consider it at the start of K’s next semester.

Now, the probation department. Yes, they’re involved–K is not technically on probation, but it’s all somehow the same. Ashley Wilson has been assigned to her. She is supposed to be visiting K at my friends’ home, visiting her mom, visiting her at school. All that stuff. Ms. Wilson has lied in court and said that’s what she’s doing. In fact, she’s only been to my friends’ house once. K says she’s only talked to her in school once. She visited K’s mother’s house right after going by my friends’ place, and K’s mom says that’s the only visit she’s made. I don’t know that her lack of visits has done any harm, but I don’t think she’s supposed to be lying about it.

After the judge said she’d consider the online school, someone–and who else, if it wasn’t Ms. Wilson?–went to DAEP and told them what had been said at K’s last hearing (basically what I said above). The school decided K would no longer be allowed to bring her schoolwork home.

For nearly all of the previous six-week period, K and my friend had done her math assignments (and a few others) at my friends’ kitchen table. You’d think this decision by the school would cause K to fall further behind, wouldn’t you?

Enter Brandon Caffee, Ms. Wilson’s boss. He had become visibly angry with my friend when she did not accept his judgment that the online school was not an option for K. Perhaps he thought my friend was his employee. At any rate, my friend recently got a call from Ms. Wilson in which Ms. Wilson behaved as if she had no knowledge of the issues surrounding K’s ADHD “disability.” It had slipped her mind, apparently, that she herself had said K should not be taking the pills unnecessarily. K had stopped taking them, by the way, approximately 3 months prior to this conversation. On her own initiative. Great kid. Really.

Ms. Wilson told my friend that Mr. Caffee had said she was required to give K the pills. My friend pointed out that Mr. Caffee was not actually K’s doctor, that the doctor had said she shouldn’t take them every day or at all if she didn’t need them, that the doctor had in fact said she intended to refer K for a reevaluation and would at the very least reduce her dosage the next time she saw her, and so forth. Mr. Caffee then got on the line and told my friend that the judge would only consider the wording on the actual prescription bottle (“ONCE DAILY”) and that she would likely remove K from their home and put her back in the detention center if my friends did not comply. My friend agreed that she might.

So what was all this? Clearly it was an attempt to intimidate my friends into forcing K to take pills contrary to her doctor’s actual instructions. I strongly suspect it was also an attempt to lay the groundwork for blaming my friends for the fact that K was behind in her assignments. Mr. Caffee then told my friends he’d make sure K was referred for an evaluation by sometime early in the next week. They thanked him and pointed out that they’d been trying to arrange the same thing for months. So far, no evaluation.

Yesterday, while my friends believed K was visiting her father more than 80 miles away, she was in fact in town to see her doctor. K managed to let them know about it. After my friend showed up, K’s father told her that Ms. Wilson had told him she was not required to be present, and told his wife to call the police. She did, and that was interesting. But.

Let’s just stop here for a moment. Ms. Wilson has:

  1. Lied about her visits, and done so in the courtroom.
  2. Undermined K’s relationship with the people with whom the court chose to place her.
  3. Cooperated in damaging K’s ability to do her schoolwork.
  4. Participated in an attempt to intimidate my friends into drugging K unnecessarily.
  5. Knowingly abetted K’s father in an attempt to keep my friends out of the doctor’s office, when she knew the doctor would have questions about K’s behavior at home and at school, and she knew K’s mother had a history of lying about K’s behavior and reactions to medication.
  6. Chosen not to let my friends know about that visit.
  7. This is a conclusion on my part…but I think she’s working with the school to preserve its public image at K’s expense.

So: which part of that was in K’s best interest? And…how? I want to know why she still has a job. Her boss, too.

Now K gets to shine a bit. She told my friends she had it covered. She’d stood up to her mom and dad, and (after my friend spoke privately with her doctor) they all agreed K should stop getting medicated. The doctor had already told my friend she would not renew the prescription anyway without sending her out for an evaluation, but they probably didn’t know that.

We’re really proud of K, and however messed up it may have been, at least these guys are doing something together as a family. It’s good.

However. K still has trouble with her classes. My friends still think some sort of evaluation is in order. Maybe there’s a learning disability of some sort in play–they don’t think so, but maybe, and if so? Maybe they can’t keep her in DAEP anymore. There are laws about kids in special-ed classes. K’s doctor was prepared to make that happen, but the sudden about-face by K’s parents may have flustered her. In any event, no evaluation is scheduled.

As far as we know.

So, K is in better shape now. But this should not stop here. The probation department needs to benefit from the healthy effects of sunlight.

I think the online school is no longer likely, as K has become accustomed to DAEP. For months she wanted to get out of there, but…I guess they’ve kinda worn her out. And with the requirement for constant supervision, she’d have to be in my friends’ office with her. My friends love the kid and want to help her, but they can’t let their office become a war zone. They have to work, too. They’re very disappointed, but maybe something good can happen. I’m hoping.

Know anybody useful in Fannin County? Please let me know if you can help. K has had a tough life already. She does not need it to be made worse by these people.

Thanks for your time, and we now return to our irregular unscheduled programming.



Published inPersonal


  1. Karin

    Just a couple of questions that are not clear in your description of events:

    Did this child have an advocate present in the room every time she was questioned? A parent? A lawyer? Was she advised of her rights – even if juveniles may have fewer rights (go figure!) they exist.

    How inadequate is this school? Are they really claiming to teach science with no labs?

    • Probably a “yes” to the question about an advocate. If you exclude “standard” questions asked via computer in JDC, which may or may not be used as evidence (I don’t know). If by advocate you mean “lawyer.” No other advocate has been made available to her. On at least one occasion my friend told Ms. Wilson to stop questioning K about matters related to her case.

      As for the adequacy of the school…for some students it may be fine. For a short-term discipline issue, it may in fact be wonderful. But it is not a good fit for K.

      And yes, they claim to be teaching science without labs. I understand DAEP schools may have their own curriculum…but this one is run as an adjunct of the main high school, and the kids receive credit as if they were in the larger school. They do not have separate teachers for each subject. If the person assigned as their “teacher” does not know a subject, the teacher may or may not ask another to step in and help. This is why K did so much of her math work at my friends’ home, back when it was allowed.

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