Melissa Brantley's battle with the D.C. school system, which kept her in second grade for three years, is over. She's in class at a private school in Silver Spring this fall -- and the District is paying the tab.
That's the result of a recent settlement the school system made with a community group that threatened to sue the city for failing to test Melissa for learning problems, and for losing some of her academic records.
D.C. school officials agreed to pay Melissa's $2,175 tuition last summer at the Lab School of Washington, a private school for children who have difficulty learning. And they also are covering about $12,000 in tuition costs at the Chelsea School in Silver Spring, where Melissa is now enrolled.
Initially, D.C. School Superintendent Andrew E. Jenkins had insisted that she be transferred to one of the District's special education centers, but Melissa's mother and her neighbors said the city lacked the programs she needed. They demanded private schooling, and they also filed a civil rights complaint on Melissa's behalf with the U.S. Department of Education.
Yet one more dispute may lie ahead. The system has only agreed to pay Melissa's tuition until next June, and it may request that she return to D.C. schools. Ron Drake, a lawyer who, along with neighborhood activists in Shaw, rallied to Melissa's cause, said he wants the child to stay in private school at city expense.
Melissa, who is 10, had drifted through three D.C. elementary schools before the system discovered her learning problems. Now she gets individual attention at Chelsea, where classes usually have only about six students each.
She has hardly missed a day, and seems to be progressing, Drake said. "It's all turning out extremely well," he said.