Psychiatrist submits letter for student Teen awaits decision from school officials on residency rule

November 18, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

After a month away from school, Danielle Rash is hoping she will be able to return -- tuition-free -- next month after visiting a psychiatrist this week who wrote to school officials on her behalf.

On Monday afternoon, Rash told her troubles to Dr. Gary K. Palys, a licensed therapist in Olney. That afternoon, he wrote a letter to Howard County school officials saying that Rash moved to Woodbine to escape an "intolerable home situation" in West Virginia, where she had lived until June with her mother and stepfather.

"Danielle saw her family situation in West Virginia as so difficult that she developed symptoms of depression (probably major depression) as a result," he wrote.

Palys could not be reached for comment.

Rash's aunt and legal guardian, Wendie Varnell, faxed copies of the letter to school officials Monday afternoon.

Patti Caplan, spokeswoman for the school system, said yesterday that she did not know whether the letter would be sufficient to grant Rash a tuition waiver based on hardship. For confidentiality reasons, she would not talk about Rash specifically.

"It sounds like it would be what we were looking for," Caplan

said. But she said she had not seen the letter and did not know if it provided enough information.

Varnell said she hadn't heard from school officials by 5 p.m. yesterday. "Someone could have at least called today or something," she said.

The letter might not gain Rash admission. Caplan has repeatedly said the school needs proof of hardship and cannot take Rash's word for it. Timothy S. Barkley Sr., Rash's lawyer, told The Sun this month that school officials had told him the same thing.

"They would need a full investigation," Barkley said. "I've got to come up with something more than just, 'She said so.' "

Margaret E. Schultz, a pupil personnel worker, told The Sun last month that Rash needed an official document from a licensed social worker, a child abuse worker, the Police Department or a court judge who had worked with Rash in West Virginia. She said a letter from a minister would not be sufficient.

School officials removed Rash, 16, from Glenelg High School on Oct. 16 because she did not meet the county's strict residency requirements, though she has lived in Woodbine with Varnell since June.

They told Rash that she did not qualify for a tuition waiver -- granted to a handful every year of the hundreds who apply -- because she could not prove that she moved to Howard County to escape hardship and not to attend better quality schools.

An anonymous donor has agreed to secure the $6,570 needed to pay her out-of-state tuition. Although that offer stands, Barkley said he wanted to exhaust all other options first.

Varnell said if Palys' letter doesn't get Rash into school, she will accept the donor's money and might consider suing the school system.

"I can't fight no more," Varnell said. "I've had it."

Pub Date: 11/18/98

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