Faced with a barrage of criticism for turning away two students who didn't meet Howard County's unusually strict residency requirements, school officials said yesterday that one, a Haitian teen, might return to class next week.
Etienne Fanfan, 17, who moved to Columbia last summer to flee a life endangered by crime and gunfire in poverty-ridden Haiti, could be back at Wilde Lake High on a tuition waiver if his older sister, who lives in Columbia and has a green card, becomes his legal guardian.
"I know that [pupil services director] Estes [Lockhart] and our attorney, Mark Blom, were reviewing the case very thoroughly to make sure that we were complying with the law or if we could find a way to make this work for the family," said school spokeswoman Patti Caplan.
In a related case, 16-year-old Danielle Rash, who lives with her legal guardian in Woodbine, is waiting to hear whether she will be readmitted to Glenelg High School on a tuition waiver after being kicked out in mid-October because she could not prove she moved to Howard County to escape a volatile home life in West Virginia.
The controversial cases have prompted the school system's Equity Council -- a panel of about 20 people formed in May to advise school officials on fairness issues -- to review the county's residency policy. The school system has been widely criticized for granting a hardship tuition waiver to a football star from New York while denying similar waivers to Etienne and Danielle.
In mid-November, the Equity Council met with Lockhart to discuss the residency requirements. The discussion will continue at the next meeting, which is Dec. 14, said Eileen Woodbury, staff support person for the council.
Rufus Clanzy, administrator for the county's Office of Human Rights and a member of the Equity Council, said the panel requested specifics on who has been granted tuition waivers and for what reasons.
He said the council may decide what action to take Dec. 14.
"The general feeling I got is that the policy itself was a sound policy, but I guess it was a matter of the implementation of the policy," Clanzy said.
Etienne has been living with his mother, whose name is on the lease of a Columbia apartment. Because his mother does not have a green card, school officials told him that he could not be considered a Howard County resident and would have to pay $6,570 to attend Wilde Lake.
Guerdy Brunache, Etienne's aunt, said yesterday that her understanding is that Etienne might be allowed back in school if his 19-year-old sister becomes his legal guardian. Caplan said he could possibly be in school as early as next week on a tuition waiver.
Caplan said officials are waiting for proof of hardship from Danielle and her family. According to the school's policy, Danielle must prove that she did not move to Howard County just to attend the schools here, which are considered among the best in the state.
Caplan said Danielle's therapist has not been returning phone calls and is delaying the process.
"That one could be resolved in an hour if we could just get what we need," she said.
Danielle's therapist, Dr. Gary K. Palys of Olney, refused to comment.
Danielle met with Palys more than two weeks ago. He wrote at least one letter to school officials saying that Danielle moved to Woodbine to escape an "intolerable home situation" in West Virginia, where she had lived until June with her mother and stepfather.
Caplan said the information was not sufficient.
"We haven't got a letter that we can work with yet," she said. Caplan would not give specifics, but she has said that the school needs documented proof of hardship and cannot simply take a student's word for it.
A week ago, school officials called Danielle and Wendie Varnell, her aunt and legal guardian, asking them to give Danielle's therapist permission to talk further about her situation. They were outraged at the thought of school officials prying into Danielle's life, but gave permission anyway.
"I told [school officials] just do what you want," Varnell said. "The main thing right now is getting her in there. She's been out over a month."
The delay has increased their frustration because Danielle is not receiving an education. She gets further and further behind in her studies and says she can't keep up because she had to return her textbooks when she left school.
"I really want to go back to school, and they won't let me," Danielle said his week. " It really makes me mad."
Stephen C. Bounds, head of the Howard County school board, said if Danielle and her family are unhappy they should take action and appeal.
"They have appeal rights," he said. "I haven't gotten any appeals. So the ball's not in my court. If it is, I'll deal with it, and quickly."
Because he might have to rule on the case, Bounds would not talk about it specifically. But he said he supports the school's residency policy.
"I still believe that the amount of documentation that is being required is not at all onerous for anyone who really has a hardship," he said.
Timothy S. Barkley, Danielle's lawyer, said he was appealing the school's decision but didn't press the matter because he thought documentation from the therapist would resolve the situation.
"My time is their money, and I didn't want to spend their money unless I have to," Barkley said. In October, an anonymous donor in Baltimore offered to pay the $6,570 tuition needed to return Danielle to school, but Barkley said he wanted to exhaust other options before using the donor's money.
Danielle tries to keep busy and family members fume.
Danielle's maternal grandmother, Amanda Sales, who has lived in Woodbine since the early 1950s, said she thinks school officials should be ashamed.
"It's terrible that this kid has been fighting to go to school," Sales said. "I don't know what the problem is. You know, when they're not in school they could be in anything. Danielle is a sweet kid, but it would be a shame for her to get all messed up because of this."
Varnell put it more bluntly: "Danielle is getting a raw deal."
Pub Date: 12/03/98