A Range of Harsh Lessons

Schoolyard slurs, an incest charge and county social services shatter a black family's Kiowa dream.

Three of the boys were "really up on things," Mortensen says. "Very intelligent." She gave two of them extra work because she felt they needed to be challenged.

The youngest boy, now 9, "had problems not wanting to work," Mortensen says. "You need someone to be creative with him, someone to have some one-on-one with him and get him through some of the things -- and I would do that."

Mortensen says she never saw anything she would describe as sexual acting out. Nor did she ever see anything that would point to abuse or neglect.

 
 
 
 

"What I saw was some basic sibling rivalry, and it happened amongst all of them," she says. "One of the boys might have said something in class, might have been teasing one of the others, and they said, 'Shut up.' I just can't even think of a situation now. I didn't see it as anything based on gender, age or anything. It was just kids getting along being kids."


The Veasey family's routine came to an abrupt halt on April 10 of that year.

Earl had an appointment that day for a checkup at the veterans' hospital in Denver, and Diane had decided to accompany him. They were about a mile from home when the car approached a curve and went out of control on the dirt road.

"He was going about 35," Diane recalls. "The car flipped over, hit a pole and flipped over into a ditch and into a fence."

Diane knew immediately that Earl was badly hurt. He was unable to move. She used the cell phone to summon help. Emergency workers took Earl by helicopter to Swedish Medical Center in Englewood, where doctors diagnosed him with a broken neck. He was paralyzed from the shoulders down.

Earl would spend a month at Swedish before being transferred to Craig Rehabilitation Hospital.

It was a hardship for Diane to get to Craig and see her husband, because there was no one available to be at home with the kids and Brandon, her handicapped son, says Mortensen. "So she would take them with her [to Craig], and I wouldn't have a chance to work with them."

Mortensen eventually gave the kids work so they could finish up the semester and she could issue them a grade. None of the children received a grade below a C, Mortensen says. "If you do your job right, there's no reason to fail anyone."

The Veasey children wound up their semester about a month earlier than they would have had the accident not occurred.

The kids have always helped pitch in to help when needed. Mortensen recalls them assisting one day when Brandon had a seizure. "They helped their mom take care of him, hold him down. He wet himself, so they cleaned him up," she says.

But caring for Brandon, her paralyzed husband and ten other kids was going to be too much for Diane, and she knew it. So some of her older kids stepped in.

Ronald came to visit from Indiana and volunteered to take the seven youngest children back with him until his father could get resettled at home. The incident with Ronald and the Michigan social workers "was past," Diane says. And when Ronald volunteered to help out, "it seemed like a good idea."

From April to June, Ronald watched over his youngest siblings, adding them to his own household of five kids.

The Veasey children returned to Colorado in June.

That summer, the Veaseys decided to file suit against Elbert County, claiming that the poorly maintained roads near their home were the cause of Earl's accident.

And in August, says a friend of the Veaseys', Ronald returned to Colorado and asked his father for a $30,000 loan. Earl turned him down. Ronald returned to Indiana. His younger siblings began home schooling with a new teacher in September.

Sonja Jeffries, an educator with almost fifteen years' experience in teaching everything from kindergarten through twelfth grade, was brought in for the new school year after Mortensen, who was expecting, retired to spend time with her children. Jeffries's previous job had been with Aurora Public Schools, where she taught high-risk students at William Smith High School. Jeffries is more critical of the Veasey kids' educational capabilities than was her predecessor.

"My initial assessment of them and their skills was that they, all of them, were at least one grade level below expectations," Jeffries says. "There were one or two of them who were probably two years behind. But what I noticed was that with individual attention, it seemed like they could make rapid progress."

In general, says Jeffries, "they had good attitudes toward home schooling and put effort into their assignments. They were well-behaved; I didn't have any problems with any of them."

By mid-semester, all but one of the children [a boy] were doing well "or at least average," says Jeffries.

Like Mortensen, Jeffries says she believes the children had a good home environment.

"It was unfortunate that there was a lot of, I felt, maybe outside stress due to their father's paralysis and what they were going through as result of the accident," says Jeffries, "but I felt they were coping and they were still able to concentrate on their work.

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