Opinion

12-year-old cancer survivor kicked out of school for low attendance, but it doesn’t end there

A young girl who was kicked out of school for “attendance and academic” reasons while battling cancer has been invited back.

But her parents haven’t decided whether St. Joseph Middle School is the right place for her anymore.

Rose McGrath, 12, of Battle Creek, Mich., is in remission after a nearly three-year battle with leukemia, but instead of celebrating her recovery, St. Joseph Middle sent the girls’ parents a letter last week saying she was being dismissed.

“It’s not really fair because I didn’t do anything wrong, but they still got rid of me,” McGrath told CBS affiliate WWMT News Channel 3 on Thursday as she fought back tears.

School was the only place she felt like a normal kid, she said.

“When I’m at home, I’m sick, I don’t feel well; no one else does that,” she said. “But when I’m at school, I’m like everyone else.”

McGrath was in the Battle Creek Catholic school system her whole life, WWMT reported, but fighting the disease made attending school tough.

“Even though she’s now done with her treatment, you still have a very long recovery process because you’ve basically just put two and a half years of poison into your body. You’re not recovering overnight,” her mother, Barbara McGrath, told the station. “It’s not like she’s out at the mall having fun. She’s in her bed, sick with nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain. She’s not having fun, she’s sick. She’d be at school if she could.”

School officials told WWMT that they tried to work with her, but since Rose McGrath only attended 32 full days of class this year, it was too difficult to continue to consider her a student.

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“These were extraordinary circumstances, but so many accommodations were made we felt eventually it became a point where we really had to help Rose, by being able to make sure that she was getting the assistance that she needed and to learn,” Father John Fleckenstein told the station, adding that privacy rules prevented him from fully discussing the situation.

The girl’s father, Tom McGrath, said the school didn’t try hard enough.

“The accommodations which were made were woefully inadequate for a child with such a serious diagnosis,” he told WWMT.

The school changed course Friday after the McGraths contacted the state Office for Civil Rights.

Fleckenstein released a statement saying, according to WWMT:

After much consideration and prayer, and in consultation with Mrs. Marcy Arnson, principal of Saint Joseph’s, we have decided to invite seventh grader Rose McGrath to return to our school as soon as possible. We will continue to work with her and continue to provide as many accommodations that will help her during the remainder of the school year.

“We remain convinced that the accommodations provided over the past months were extensive, appropriate, and compassionate. It is unfortunate that the coverage of this issue has been greatly distorted both in the media and on social networks. We hope and pray that moving forward we can do so with mutual respect while providing continued privacy for our student.

“It is due to those privacy issues that we are not able to give a full account of the many hours of dedicated thought and loving efforts that the teachers, staff, and principal did in order to try and ensure Rose was able to progress in her studies so she would be able to succeed while managing her remission. We remain very happy that Rose’s health has improved.

“As we did before, we will continue to work closely with the McGrath family and invite them to take advantage of the accommodations throughout the remainder of the school year. Our focus has been, and remains on the well-being and academic success of Rose.”

The McGraths told WWMT that, before agreeing to send their daughter back to St. Joseph’s, they want assurances that ill children will be accommodated as the law mandates for public schools, even though St. Joseph’s is private.

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Carmine Sabia

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