ADDING INSULT TO INJURY
Leslie Whited didn't think that it was too much to ask that her daughter be allowed to attend elementary school only a few blocks away from home instead of taking a forty-minute bus ride to another school. After all, Whited had a medical excuse--her own serious head injury--for wanting her daughter nearby, and the principals of the two schools have agreed.
But Denver Public School officials haven't.
Whited is still wrangling with administrators, who turned her down flat but recently have asked her to send more medical information. That's information she can readily provide.
In May 1990, Whited was the passenger in a Camaro convertible that spun out of control on Lookout Mountain. The car did a front-end roll, coming to a stop seventy feet later, upside down with Whited pinned underneath.
Whited was lucky to be alive, but her brain received a tear. Recovery was slow. Sometimes the pain wouldn't allow her out of bed for days. In the ensuing months, she had to learn to walk and read again.
It was a confusing world. A telephone ringing could break her concentration to the point that she might forget entirely what she had been doing. If more than one person spoke at a time, she could not understand the words--it was all just noise. There was no way she could return to her former job as a bar manager. It had taken her years to get the job, and the long hours, she says, had cost her a marriage. Now, her doctor was telling her that she might be able to work two or three hours a day--at most.
She was constantly fatigued and often forgetful. "And what was I supposed to do today?" she asked in a book (The Regional Family Guide to Traumatic Brain Injury) she compiled in 1991 as part of her therapy. "Oh yes, get my five-year-old daughter up, dressed and breakfast. School, you say? Oops! I knew there was something else! Thank goodness her school is one block away. Well, today we are only ten minutes late."
Her daughter, Amanda, had to grow up faster than many of her peers. She had to get herself up and dressed for school at University Park Elementary if she was going to get there on time...or at all. She took responsibility for getting her schoolwork done, as well as reminding her mother about appointments and important dates.
Whited returned to an old ambition to be a graphic artist and slowly built a customer base that now includes US West Communications and Paramount Pictures. She worked mostly out of her home and did her cognitive work--tasks requiring judgment and information processing--in the mornings when she was fresh, and her "idiot work," such as photocopying, in the afternoons. She relied on daycare providers and therapists near her home and was grateful that Amanda's school was nearby.
Whited can drive if she has to, and she runs her own business--which she concedes could make the average person wonder why she needs an exception.
"The brain is like a battery," she explains. "Each day there is only so much juice. It is everything I can do to have enough `juice' just to take care of myself. Anything extra, any stress or strain, hurts. There are still days when I cannot get up and out of bed."
University Park was so close that Whited could participate in her daughter's education--attending such things as school plays and parent-teacher conferences. But University Park goes only through the second grade, after which many of the pupils are bused to Columbine Elementary on 29th Avenue near City Park, a forty-minute bus ride.
When Amanda entered the second grade, Whited wasn't concerned about the busing, believing that her daughter instead could attend Cory Elementary, less than four blocks from their home. She thought Amanda eventually would be able to ride her bicycle to school.
But in May, Amanda brought home a notice that she was to be bused to Columbine this fall. Alarmed, Whited called University Park and was told that there was nothing she could do. The busing, the principal said, was mandated by a 25-year-old DPS desegregation plan that had been under federal court oversight since 1987. (A trial is slated for August 22 to determine if federal oversight should continue.)
Whited says she met with the Columbine principal to explain her medical problems, and the principal agreed to a transfer. She then made an appointment with the Cory principal; he, too, approved the transfer. All she needed was final approval from DPS administrators.
"I thought that I was home free," Whited says. She wrote to DPS explaining her reasons for the transfer to Cory, which she included with the approved transfer paperwork from the principals. But two weeks later she received bad news from DPS.
"The transfer request for Amanda J. Whited from Columbine to Cory has been investigated, and I regret to inform you that the request is denied," wrote Wayne D. Eckerling of the school system's Department of Planning, Research, and Program Evaluation. "The reasons stated in the transfer application are not of the type or degree that would warrant an exception..."
Repeated telephone calls to DPS over a two-week period went unanswered, Whited says. (DPS officials haven't returned Westword's calls.) Finally she reached Eckerling, who, she says, told her to mail any mitigating medical information. Neuropsychologist Richard Cook of the Colorado Center for Neurological Rehabilitation wrote a supportive letter citing Whited's "significant cognitive difficulties and poor stress management" resulting from her injury.
Her request is still in limbo, but at least DPS administrators now have asked her to send in additional medical information. The district's response puzzles Whited.
"If that's what they want," she says, "why did they first deny my request? This was a medical transfer. Both principals approved. There was no reason for DPS to get involved.