Mother distraught after loss of daughter's hardship exemption


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ST. CROIX - As the school year comes to a close and anticipation for next year grows, Tharsis Vlaun is struggling with the unknown as her 5-year old daughter may have to switch schools.

As a single mother, she sought an exemption last school year for her daughter to attend an out-of-district school that allowed one of her parents to pick her daughter up from school. This year, however, she has received notice that her daughter's exemption has been revoked and she will have to go to an elementary school closer to her home.

Doing so, according to Vlaun, will leave the child unsupervised for up to two hours until she gets home from work.

"This is crazy, I only asked for the exemption because I needed to have supervision for my littler girl and if they deny it now. I don't know who is going to be able to watch her 'till I get home," she said as her voice trembled.

But Vlaun is not alone.

St. Croix Superintendent Gary Molloy said Friday that notices went out to known individuals who are out of district are all part of the redistricting efforts by the Education Department to help balance the enrollment at all of the schools.

"We had to put things in place to have the students go to the school closest to where they live," he said. "We realize that in some instances that creates a hardship but there is a process for that where special provisions can be requested but the committee has to review and they make the decision from year to year."

Molloy said once the decision is made, if the parent still feels strongly about their situation and files an appeal, then a meeting can be held to determine what, if anything will be done. He said he has taken himself out of the equation and the decision making and evaluation of the hardship is primarily the responsibility of the committee.

"As a department, we have to look at a lot of things because if the classes are full or near capacity, we have to give first preference to those students who live in the district and that may not work out despite of any hardships," he said. "If we can't accommodate students in their own district that means added cost for transporting that student to another school."

Vlaun said she had been told that the department was denying all requests across the board regardless of the situation and she is dreadfully concerned about the sacrifices she would have to make to ensure the safety of her daughter from the time that she gets out of school to when she gets off work.

"I have a job, I have to work to keep a roof over our heads," she said. "I can't be expected to not work to ensure I'm home when she gets home."

She said her solution of getting the child at least closer to her parents was not the best, but at least it was a solution that ensured that she had supervision after school.

Molloy said the committee looks into the differences between people who want the changes because of convenience, rather than real hardship, but the decisions have to be made to ensure the department remains in compliance with its redistricting policies.

"Believe me, I hear what the parent is saying but we have to look at the projected numbers for enrollment at the schools, try to keep it all balanced and make decisions based on that," he said.

Molloy said the appeal process is in place and parents who want to challenge the decision could contact the department by writing a letter to the Department's Student Services Office so an appeal hearing can be held.

"There is absolutely no guarantee that the hearing would change anything, but the process is in place so that decisions are fair to everyone," he said.

- Contact reporter Fiona Stokes at 714-9149 or email fstokes@dailynews.vi.

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