“Each year, a few pieces of our child’s future will be stolen yet again.”
The Davis family knows what it means to serve. Sarah Davis is a disabled Air Force veteran and military spouse. She’s married to Air Force Major Matthew Davis, who holds a Doctorate of Science in Physician Assistant Emergency Medicine and is currently serving at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland. As the family prepares for Matthew’s 4th overseas deployment, the Davis’ continue their own battle right here on the home front.
On average, military kids move three times more often than their civilian peers; attending between six-nine schools in their K-12 years. These frequent moves can wreak havoc on a military-connected kid, especially since education standards are inconsistent when they move from state to state. Many military kids fall behind when they move, while others are left bored and unchallenged if they’ve already learned the material at the new school. This is the price our military kids pay when their parent(s) serve their country. These are the hills and valleys they are forced to navigate. This is how they serve.
But for military kids with special needs, those hills and valleys can turn into mountains and canyons.
Lilli is an 8th grade military kid who one day wants to be a mom and travel to China. Her face lights up when she smiles and her cherub cheeks are enough to make you want smile back. Lilli has faced her fair share of challenges as a military kid, but none so challenging as her journey within Maryland’s Anne Arundel County Public Schools (AACPS).
Lilli has several genetic disorders, including autism, and most recently was diagnosed with dyslexia. Lilli will be entering high school next year, and she currently writes at a 4th grade level, articulates at a 4 year old level, and has the reading accuracy of a 2nd grader. Since age three, Lilli has received special education services and support via an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) through each of her last three schools. But when the Davis’ relocated to Maryland in 2013, the new school re-evaluated Lilli and removed, reduced or revoked the vast majority of services, support and accommodations that she was receiving.
Lilli’s mom, Sarah, has been fighting with the school district since 2014 to modify Lilli’s IEP and provide the necessary adequate services needed for her to be successful in her education. Without these services, her chances at catching up or progressing become slimmer and slimmer as each school year passes. But in order for her to receive those services, the school has to acknowledge that Lilli has a reading or specific learning disability…which they have flat out refused to do. The Davis’ have had to resort to paying out of pocket for many of the services she needs.
In fact, AACPS has gone as far as taking the Davis family to court to deny the necessary services. Instead of spending $3,000 for the necessary Independent Education Evaluation (IEE) that would fully identify Lilli’s unique needs, the school district instead chose to spend over $30,000 of taxpayer money in legal fees…0ver 10 times the amount it would have cost AACPS to just pay for the IEE in the first place.
“We are saddened to learn our public school spent $30,754.43 to deny our daughter the $3,000 evaluation,” said Sarah. “How many kids with disabilities could have been served instead of wasting $30K of our taxpayer money on legal fees to fight our daughter receiving the education she needs and deserves?“
On the surface, you would believe Sarah was a born advocate. She’s eloquent, knowledgeable and can speak about federal and state disability and education law as if she were the legislature who created it. However, the Anne Arundel School District are the ones responsible for Sarah’s full-fledged advocacy efforts, thanks to the experiences her children have had to endure.
In fact, advocacy has become a family affair for the Davis’. Sarah has testified more than 10 times in front of the Maryland state legislature regarding the state’s education policies, as have her children.
One of Sarah’s other daughters, 12 year old Angelina, was born with a visual impairment and was also denied supports from AACPS. Her story was even featured in an Upworthy video and she is the face of the See-Now campaign: ad advocacy movement for the blind and visually impaired. Thanks to the Davis’ advocacy efforts however, most of Angelina’s supports were restored, though there are still some pending issues at this time.
Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Lilli’s case.The Davis family paid out of their own pocket for the $3,000 independent evaluation, which should have been paid by the school district. However, the judge sided with AACPS and denied reimbursement to the family. “93 percent of cases like Lilli’s lose at this level,” said Sarah. Though they do plan to appeal this decision, the family has already racked up over $50,000 in attorney fees. Currently, there is a GoFundMe campaign to help the Davis family fight for Lilli’s disability rights.
As the Davis family continues preparing for Matthew’s deployment and their own fight on the home front, Sarah continues her advocacy efforts on Lilli’s behalf while assisting her in learning how to self-advocate as well. “We aren’t the only ones going through this,” said Sarah. “This happens so frequently, everywhere and I’m going to continue to raise awareness, not just for Lilli, but for all of our kids.”
For now, the Davis’ have a message for Anne Arundel County Public Schools, and hopefully, this time they will listen:
“As a military child, Lillianne serves her country in a way most children are not yet asked to serve. As her father deploys to the Middle East to defend the very rights she is being denied, we ask the school to reconsider and stand with Lillianne in her service to her country by meeting her unique needs and opening the door to her future.”