September 19, 1997 in Nation/World

Petitioners Pound Pavement For Tiffany Student Gets Unexpected Help In Fight To Attend Nearby School

By The Spokesman-Review
 

Sue Jones barely knows 10-year-old Tiffany Cook, but she crafted a petition just for her Thursday.

And when Jones went to a copy shop for duplicates, she knew she’d done the right thing: Even the employees at the shop wanted to sign it.

Jones, a North Side homemaker, spent the afternoon gathering support from people who want Tiffany to stay at Woodridge Elementary, which administrators say has no room for her.

“It just kind of struck my heart, you know,” said Jones, a retired social worker.

Tiffany’s predicament struck a lot of other hearts, too, as Jones found when she traipsed up and down sidewalks in her Indian Trail neighborhood.

Even the few people who didn’t sign for one reason or another shook their heads and said they sure felt sorry for that little girl.

Despite pleas from Spokane School District 81 administrators not to come back today, Tiffany says she’ll be there. The principal says he isn’t sure what his next move will be.

The sixth-grader has spent the past three days alone in small rooms at Woodridge - the school she’s attended since classes began.

Tiffany landed there after refusing to get on a bus to a school four miles away, where her principal said there is more room.

“If she can walk to school, why should she ride a bus to a school several miles away?” asked Jones. Jones and Tiffany’s parents, a military family, moved into the neighborhood this summer.

Another woman, Nancy Downs, circulated the petition in her South Hill neighborhood.

“This isn’t just this little girl,” Downs said. “She’s just the poster child. None of us want our children bused out of the neighborhoods.”

People who signed the petitions offered plenty of suggestions on making room for Tiffany: Hire another teacher and make several, smaller sixth-grade classes. Hire an aide. Let Tiffany help the teacher, if she’s so smart. (She’s a gifted student who skipped first grade.)

“Push! Push! Push for that extra classroom,” urged one woman. She signed the petition, while her husband refused.

He said he feels like the teachers union was in a tough spot, and he understands the demand for smaller classes. A teacher contract limits sixth-grade classes to 29 students.

On Wednesday afternoon, District 81 administrator Laurie Dolan hand-delivered a letter to Tammy Cook, Tiffany’s mother. By today, it said, she must send Tiffany to Browne Elementary School, teach her at home, or enroll her in another district.

“The letter says there will not be a space for her at Woodridge,” said Principal Bob Pedersen, adding that he hopes the family “respects the wishes of the district.”

When Tom Wagner answered his doorbell, he looked at his wife, Lorraine: “If you sign it, I’ll sign it.”

She grabbed the pen, thinking of her children and their classmates, also at Woodridge. “The kids think it’s a crummy deal that she’s being shipped out,” she said.

“Bless your heart,” said Mary Besecker, among the first to sign. “But it won’t work. If you make an exception, you’ll have to make more.”

Bobbi Anderson hesitated, then took Jones’ pen. “I’m between a rock and a hard place,” she said, “because I’ve done a lot of work for District 81. But we were a military family, too.”

Tiffany’s solo schooling began Tuesday, when administrators put her in a conference room with a stack of lessons delivered by a teacher at Browne.

By Wednesday, she was no longer allowed to take lunch or recess with her new friends. Administrators said it was too disruptive for all the children. They also brought her lunch from the cafeteria and she ate alone.

Another Tiffany supporter called state legislators to complain Thursday. “The tactics they’re using on her are the same ones police use in a hostage situation. They put her in a quiet room to break her spirit.”

The woman, who is married to a Spokane police officer, didn’t want her name printed.

Tiffany said she’ll go to Woodridge today anyway, even though she got sick to her stomach Thursday morning. She blames it on a small breakfast.

She’s crossing her fingers that Pedersen somehow forgets about the deadline.

But maybe he won’t, she said. Maybe police will be blocking the front door.

“I don’t know,” Tiffany said. “I may have to make a run for it.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo


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