Haitian teen back in school after tuition waiver is OK'd Process called arbitrary by guardian of student who hasn't been readmitted

December 08, 1998|By Alice Lukens | Alice Lukens,SUN STAFF

The best part about being allowed into school, says 17-year-old Etienne Fanfan, is waking up at 7 a.m. and having somewhere to go.

Etienne, who could not attend Wilde Lake High School this fall because he didn't meet Howard County's strict residency requirements, has been admitted on a tuition waiver and went to the school to register for classes yesterday.

"I'm very happy," said Etienne, a native of Haiti. " Today when I came to school, all my friends said, 'Where have you been?' "

Etienne's 19-year-old sister, Daphney, is in the process of

becoming his legal guardian, he said. He and his sister have green cards. Etienne said his family did not have to provide proof that he moved to Howard County because of hardship. He has said in the past that they moved here to escape gunshots outside their home in poverty-stricken Port-au-Prince.

'Very complex'

Patti Caplan, public information officer for the schools, confirmed yesterday that Etienne had been granted a tuition waiver and was at school for a short time, but she would not confirm other details, saying she could lose her job.

"It was very complex," Caplan said. She said school officials -- and the school system's lawyer -- studied Etienne's case and decided that "there was absolutely no reason why he shouldn't be attending."

In a related case, 16-year-old Danielle Rash is waiting to hear from school officials whether she will be readmitted. School officials forced her to leave Glenelg High School in mid-October, though she lives with her aunt and legal guardian in Woodbine, because she could not prove that she moved to Howard County to escape hardship.

Danielle's guardian, Wendie Varnell, said she thinks the school is acting arbitrarily, granting Etienne a waiver because he will be living with a legal guardian while denying one to Danielle.

bTC "What's wrong with my guardianship?" Varnell asked.

Official proof needed

Danielle moved to Woodbine in June to escape a volatile living situation with her mother and stepfather in West Virginia, Varnell said. Danielle's mother has told school officials that Danielle's stepfather will not let her back into the house.

School officials told Danielle and her family that they needed official proof that Danielle moved to Howard County to escape an abusive situation, and not just to attend county schools, which are considered by many to be the best in the state.

Several weeks ago, Danielle visited a therapist, who has written letters to the school saying that Danielle was depressed in West Virginia, where her home situation was "intolerable."

The first letter was not sufficient to prove hardship, Caplan said. She said school officials were trying to decide on the second letter, which they received last week.

'Prolonging' decision

Varnell is becoming impatient.

"The school, to me, keeps prolonging it," she said. She's worried about Danielle, who is getting more depressed, she said.

"She was doing fine as long as she was in school," Varnell said. "She seemed happy. Now the only thing she does is sit in her room and cry."

Pub Date: 12/08/98

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