A Washington Post writer has stirred up a hornet's nest, reporting Monday that a 13-year-old Washington, D.C., piano prodigy was flushed out of the public school system and into homeschooling because the district was bureaucratically unable or unwilling to accommodate her unconventional training and performance schedule.
Avery Gagliano, the young pianist, was featured in 2012 on NPR's From the Top and last year was one of 12 young musicians selected for a prestigious program in Munich, Germany.
“We decided to home-school her because of all the issues, because it was like a punch in the gut to have to face the fight again this year,” Gagliano told Dvorak. “We didn’t want to do this. We want to be part of the public school system. Avery has been in public school since kindergarten. She’s a great success story for the schools.”
The key exchange was an email from Jemea Goso, an "attendance specialist" with the school district's Office of Youth Engagement. “As I shared during our phone conversation this morning, DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,” Goso wrote.
DC Public Schools quickly fired back, arguing that the district had, in fact, worked with the family. The district never labeled Avery a truant, and actually excused the absences, DC School Chancellor Kayla Henderson said in a statement on Tuesday.
"It seems that in this matter, while DCPS was working with the family to excuse the student’s absences, the automatic letter that is generated when a student reaches 10 unexcused absences was sent," Henderson said. "After a conversation with the Office of Youth Engagement, the family was told to disregard the letter. We also confirmed by phone for the parents that no CFSA referral had been completed, nor would this escalate any further."
"We believed our communication with the family as recently as Aug. 25 clarified that Avery’s absences had been excused. We were surprised to learn that this is the reason why Avery was voluntarily withdrawn from her school. We sincerely apologize for any confusion that the cross-communication might have conveyed," Henderson said.
But the timing of the exchanges seems to be part of the disconnect.
The family, Dvoark said, stated that it made its decision shortly after returning from a major piano competition last March, pulling Avery out of public school at that point, before the school year ended.
Aug. 25, the date Henderson cites as the latest contact in her statement with the family, was the date the new school year began in DC public schools — long after the family had pulled Avery out.
Additionally, Chancellor refers to a form letter that was "automatically generated," but the exchange cited by Dvoark was a personalized email from Jemea Groso, which clearly refers to specific conversations and circumstances.
In the end, it appears that Henderson is probably correct that the district did accommodate Gagliano's unconventional schooling needs, it may also be true that they arrived at those accommodations slowly and awkwardly enough to alienate a family that wasn't going to wait around.