From Russia Today: Jeff' Sukkasem's Quest for a Free Public Education
Read the article after the jump.
Unwanted vacation: US teen refused schooling
07 May, 2009, 12:35
Many teenagers might dream of a break from school, but one boy’s two-year break is turning into a nightmare. A fourteen-year-old American is being refused free public education in the state of Maryland. He is considered an international student trying to take advantage of the system.
The boy’s attorney, however, says he has the right to be schooled for free.
For two years, Jeff Sukkasem has been teaching himself in the local library. Although for many of his peers it may sound like an endless vacation, it is a lonely life for the 14 year-old. “It was okay the first few weeks or months, but then I got bored, I started to miss my friends… I have trouble sleeping sometimes,” Jeff says.
His case is unique since Jeff is both a US citizen and a resident, yet the schools won’t let him in. Jeff not only comes to the library to study, it is also his place for an escape. Every day he deals with questions from people who just don’t understand why he isn’t in school like all his peers.
Pat Hoover is the attorney working for free to help his client get back to school: “Children under the age of 16 in our state must, by statute, attend school. This child, under the age of 16 – who just turned 14 – is refused that entitlement. I believe it’s an entitlement, not a privilege.”
The district, however, considers Jeff to be an international student who is trying to take advantage of a free system in the U.S. They tell him to pay 13,000 dollars a year, or go back to Thailand, where his parents live. However, a trip back to his family isn’t that easy: “He couldn’t go back to Thailand if he wanted to,” Jeff’s lawyer explained. “He doesn’t have $2,000 for a plane ticket. He belongs here, he lives here, and he’s been here. It’s been two years; it’s time for Montgomery County public schools to reconsider that decision.”
Everyday that goes by is another day lost for this teenager. By the time he reaches 16 the law will no longer be responsible for the gaps in his education.
Jeff, his Guardian and all of us at Hooverlaw who have worked to try and reverse the local schools’ decision denying Jeff an education extend our deepest appreciation and thanks to Alyona Minkovski, producer and on air journalist in the broadcast of this story . Go to http://www.russiatoday.com/Top_News/2009-05-07/Unwanted_vacation__US_teen_refused_schooling.html to view the online broadcast and read the aired version of this story.
We would also like to thank Leah Fabel, reporter with the Washington Examiner for breaking this story in the media through her thougful newspaper article, reprinted below and available for online viewing at http://www.washingtonexaminer.com/local/Would-be-student-seeks-waiver-to-attend-classes–43256197.html
Would-be student seeks waiver to attend classes
By: Leah FabelExaminer Staff Writer04/19/09 8:22 PM EDT
Jeff Sukkasem (Matthew A. Roth/For The Examiner)
Most 14-year-olds would welcome the chance to take a leave from middle school, but for Jeff Sukkasem it’s been two long, miserable years.
After Jeff bounced from California to his parents’ native Thailand, his mother sent him to Montgomery County in 2007 to live with family friends. She was recently divorced, and out of a job, and believed that her son, a U.S. citizen, would thrive stateside.
But now, the would-be eighth-grader spends his days educating himself at a Montgomery County library, the result of a policy forbidding students to attend public school when their parents don’t live in the district.
“Lately, I’ve been trying to read about math and Algebra, and about outer space,” he said. He calls novels “storybooks” and said his favorites were the teen thriller “Twilight” and the “Harry Potter” series.
Exceptions to the rule exist for families who can provide a reason — abandoned students, for example, or those whose parents live elsewhere because of a military deployment. But Jeff, who is still in contact with his parents, didn’t qualify. In 2008, the school system had 725 requests for free enrollment from out-of-county students. Each year, on average, about 65 requests are granted. Across the Potomac in Fairfax County, where Virginia law requires more leniency, 339 requests resulted in 329 approvals.
“The regulations are the regulations,” said Steve Zagami, director of student services for the 140,000-student Montgomery school district. He said that if it appeared the student was moved to the county solely for an education, the request is turned down and parents are offered the option to pay a $12,000 tuition or educate their child elsewhere.
“This is a wonderful school system — we’d be very attractive to many families” if the policy weren’t strictly enforced, Zagami said. But for Jeff, whose mother lacks the funds to return him home and whose legal guardian lacks the funds to pay private tuition, it has meant two years outside the classroom.
He longs for friendships, he said, and often stays awake at night, anxious about how far he’s falling behind. “It’s very frustrating for both of us,” said Kanya Amornpimonkul, Jeff’s guardian, who makes about $30,000 per year working night shifts at a hotel. “My English is poor, I was never in school here; I don’t know what books an eighth-grader is supposed to read, or what is online, or what is for free,” she said.
State law leaves it to districts to determine enrollment policies, and Maryland state Sen. Nancy King, D-Montgomery, though sympathetic to Jeff’s case, said she believed that’s where the decision belongs.
“Once we open that door, it’s hard to know where to stop, especially in fiscal times like we’re in now,” she said, adding that Montgomery’s proximity to the poorly performing District and Prince George’s County schools required it to keep borders tight.
Pat Hoover, a Rockville-based lawyer, is working with the family to appeal the school system’s decision. “He’s here, he’s not going anywhere, and he’s not being educated,” he said. “At some point he should be grandfathered in — something.”