Out of school for three months, Livingston refuses education for two children
WALKER- Nathan and Jaiden Anderson have not had an easy childhood.
Walker Elementary is the only school they've ever known, but the 7-year-old and 10-year-old were kicked out around Thanksgiving after concerns arose over where they live. They are now living with a neighbor who took provisional custody of them after their father was arrested in January. Their mother is not in the picture.
That neighbor, Jessica Michel, said after taking custody of them in January, she immediately initiated steps to get them back into school. However, she was told the notarized document that she brought to the school was not good enough. State law only requires a notarized document with witness signatures for provisional custody.
"When their father was arrested in January, my first thought was oh my gosh, the children are going to go in the system and they might be separated," Michel said. "They don't need to go through any more trauma. They've been through a lot in their little lives already."
Michel said she made the tough decision to take custody of the children, and getting the boys back into school has been the most difficult thing she's ever faced dealing with the staff at Walker Elementary.
"She came out and told me we can't accept anything unless you go through OCS services, and have a judge sign their custody papers," Michel said. "I said, 'excuse me? This paperwork is not good enough? It's legally typed out, notarized and signed by their father.'"
The WBRZ Investigative Unit found that Livingston Parish's school policy puts the decision-making powers in the hands of the principal. That's despite a state law that mandates the boys be in school and says the provisional custody document Michel had signed is sufficient.
WBRZ also spoke to the children's bus driver asking if she knew where the boys lived and if she's picked them up in the past.
"Yes, I do," she replied. "They ride my bus normally. I've been picking them up this year and last year."
When asked if she knew where they lived, she pointed out their home to us within the Walker Elementary zoning.
Despite best efforts to get the children back in school, Michel says Principal Bonnie Cox has denied them an education.
"I've reached out to the school board, but the problem is her husband works above her on the school board," Michel said. "Every little situation I've known to go through him he sides with her."
According to the Livingston Parish School Board's website, the principal's husband Jeff Cox is over the school where his wife works as a principal.
"It's very, very, very concerning," Michel said. "It's upsetting and frustrating. These children need to be in school and learning."
As we were visiting with the boys, a family member stopped by. Their great aunt said she's in no condition to take the boys herself due to a recent heart attack and cancer diagnosis. She praised Michel for stepping up to the plate as she fought back tears.
"This lady is taking very good care of these children," Kathy Temple said. "She's keeping them out of foster care. She's an angel, and if she has paperwork she should be able to get these boys to school and keep them together. That's my wish. That's what I pray to God for."
For Michel, she just wants the children back in school and learning again. She said she reached out to WBRZ after feeling helpless fighting with the establishment.
"There's no reason that she shouldn't accept them back into school," Michel said. "IEP's, they both have special needs as far as speech impairments. They are supposed to be in speech therapy in school and are not getting any of that sitting at home."
Livingston Parish School Superintendent Joe Murphy confirmed the school system is aware of this case and said the kids won't be allowed in school until a judge signs off on it. He issued the following statement:
"Livingston Parish Public Schools is required by the Federal Court to recognize student residence as determined by the place where the parent(s) or legal guardian(s) reside, or in the event of legal custody, the appointed legal residence as determined by a court of law.
The two students in question in this matter were last known to be under the custody of their father, who was residing in Plaquemine, which is in Iberville Parish. The administration at Walker Elementary was contacted by an individual in early January who claimed to hold a custody transfer by notarial act and/or a provisional mandate of custody. Such documents are not recognized by the Federal Court Order as valid documents to determine and establish a student's residence.
The Livingston Parish Public School System may only enroll students whose legal guardians have been determined by judicial order, if not the parent(s) as indicated on an official birth certificate. This information has been communicated to the parties involved, and to date, no other documentation has been provided to verify a legal residence within Livingston Parish for these students.
Livingston Parish Public Schools and the administration at Walker Elementary are eager to work with the parent(s) and/or legal guardian(s) in this matter to timely resolve this issue, pending court-mandated documentation."