A judge stands in the way of a hardworking, earnest girl trying to finish school.">
Thursday, Nov. 3, 2005
A judge stands in the way of a hardworking, earnest girl trying to finish school. She’s not alone.
Graduation Day: It’s supposed to be one of the proudest days of a person’s life, a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment for hard work. Jessica won’t have one.
Jessica is a foster kid, who wished to remain unidentified. She should be a high school senior, but a judge told her to drop out.
A lot of Kansas kids can’t wait to get out of school. The girl we met fought to stay in. But, she lost in court, now her future is in doubt. A system dedicated to making kids’ lives better failed to help her.
Harold and Pam Walker have taken in more than 40 foster kids. The Walkers treat their charges like their own.
“They want you to create good memories and stand up for your kids and get them to do what’s right,” said Pam Walker.
Jessica’s been with the Walkers for almost a year after being removed from her parents by SRS. She had been having problems at El Dorado High. But, as soon as she got to the Walker’s and enrolled at Goddard High, things started turning around.
Jessica will turn 18 Nov. 4. At 18, a ward of the state can be released from SRS custody. Judge Rebecca Lindamood, a magistrate judge in Butler County who’s in charge of Jessica’s case, sees a problem.
Apparently, if a child hasn’t graduated by the time they’re 18, they’re going to lose them. The solution, according to Lindamood, is to force her out of school and into a GED.
“Most people that hear GED hear you’re a quitter,” said Harold Walker.
Jessica is not a quitter. She even found a way to graduate six months ahead of schedule. Not good enough.
“The judge said if I didn’t get my GED, she would pull me out of this home,” said Jessica.
For the Walkers, this is too familiar.
“I really didn’t make an effort,” said Johnathan Alvord, a former foster kid. “So, instead of trying to keep me in, they made me go take a GED.”
Alvord had truancy issues at 16. Lindamood’s decision, again, was to let him out of class.
Alvord said, looking back, he agrees. Though he said he could’ve graduated had he been forced to stay in. He spent the next two years looking for work. His GED was nearly useless.
We went to SRS headquarters in Topeka for answers. It’s against SRS policy for the agency to talk about specific cases. But we asked program manager Deanne Dinkel how the system is supposed to work.
“We always encourage our youth to be very involved with their educational goals,” said Dinkel.
So someone in Jessica’s position, who desperately wants to graduate, should be helped to succeed, according to the SRS. But, it’s not up to SRS. The ultimate decision for kids like Jessica is left in the hands of judges.
Lindamood made helping kids in SRS get an education part of her campaign. Yet state law seals every SRS case. Her constituents have no way of knowing the decisions she’s making. We tried to talk to Lindamood. The Kansas state court system responded, saying Lindamood was unable to respond because it involves a child in need of care case. They said Lindamood, as with other judges presiding over children in need of care, put education of the child as the highest priority.
Jessica has taken the tests for her GED and is now awaiting her results.
Friday is Jessica’s 18th birthday. Another court hearing is her present. She’ll be back in front of Lindamood, possibly for the final time.