September 17, 1997 in Nation/World

Girl Picks Room Of Her Own Over School Chosen For Her Attorney Says District 81 Had Better Deal With Problem

By The Spokesman-Review
 

She read “Mary Poppins.” She wrote a poem about colored pencils. She solved math problems. And she did it all by herself.

Tiffany Cook chose a room of her own at Woodridge Elementary School over the bus waiting to whisk her to another northwest Spokane school Tuesday.

Tiffany, 10, is facing off with Spokane School District 81 administrators who say there’s no space for her at her neighborhood school.

They offered the sixth-grader a choice: Get on the bus or take lessons alone in a small conference room.

“At first, I thought it was going to be really scary, but actually it was kind of fun,” said Tiffany, giggling, after her first day of going solo. “I didn’t have any homework.”

Educators say they haven’t made many long-range plans for teaching Tiffany at Woodridge because they expect she and her parents will soon opt for Browne Elementary School, four miles away.

But the Cooks, a military family, say they’ve dug in their heels and Tiffany won’t leave her third-grade sister or the Indian Trail neighborhood they moved into last month - attracted largely by the school.

Now a top education attorney says the district had better get started on those long-range plans.

Placing a student alone in a conference room isn’t illegal, said Rick Wilson, attorney for the state Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction.

A state law says districts are “encouraged” - but not required - to honor parent requests for specific schools.

Still, Tiffany is entitled to certain things, Wilson said, including a certified teacher and a safe environment. “How’s the child going to be tested? Who’s evaluating them?

“If I were the school district, I’d probably want to discuss this situation with my insurance carrier,” Wilson said.

Spokane educators can’t remember a time a child was allowed to sit alone in a room to avoid busing.

Woodridge Principal Bob Pedersen said he hates to turn Tiffany away completely. “I don’t think we’re going to serve the child by telling her she has to stay home or is not allowed into the building.”

Nancy Fike, school board president, said she doesn’t want Tiffany alone in a conference room, but she sees no choice. “It looks as though this is where she’ll get her education.”

Tiffany got her assignments Tuesday morning during a brief visit from Gordon Elmes, her would-be teacher at Browne.

“It’s going to be very awkward,” said Elmes, who wasn’t sure how he’ll manage to keep up with a kid four miles away. “She’s going to miss a tremendous amount of social interaction and classroom discussion.”

School officials say they’ve no choice but to move Tiffany, a gifted student, from the class she attended for two weeks. A teacher contract limits sixth-grade classes to 29 students, and teachers must sign waivers to accept more.

“The fewer kids you have in the classroom, the better chance for the kids there to get a better education,” said Lynn Jones, president of Spokane Education Association, the local teachers union.

Woodridge’s three sixth-grade teachers agreed they won’t make allowances, said Pedersen.

Sometimes Spokane administrators simply tell families who object to busing to consider other options, such as private or home schooling. In some districts, principals have even obtained restraining orders to keep away families who insist on the school of their choice.

Tiffany and her parents, Greg and Tammy, aren’t without supporters.

Another newcomer called the Cooks to say the same thing happened to her son at a Valley school Thursday, and she wishes she’d resisted.

Another admirer, whose husband also used to work at Fairchild Air Force Base, wondered how to start a petition to get Tiffany back in her Woodridge class.

“Too frequently, our children are the last to enroll in school and get shuffled around,” said Roberta Fowler, referring to kids in military families. “I want the little gal to stick to her guns and tough it out if she can.”

Tiffany says she’ll do just that.

She did get to spend lunch time and recess with her old classmates and new best friend, she said. And when they walked by Tiffany’s conference room, they whispered hello.

Sympathetic friends even planted the seed she’d hoped to plant Tuesday for a science project, and her former teacher promised updates on its growth.

“I think at some point, they’re going to back down, and if they don’t, I’m going to spend the whole year,” Tiffany said.

“They’re going to have to put up with me.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Photo


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