Parent Voices

Why my family chose to leave our assigned school, not ‘stay and fight’


by Jaymie Perez

I recently had the opportunity to sit in on the Tampa PTA town hall meeting called “Real Talk.” This was billed as a chance to talk about underperforming schools and how they can be improved to meet students’ needs.

This topic is important to me. My husband and I have adopted nine children with special needs. Getting them the support they need to learn has required endless battles with the school system.

I’m disappointed at the panel’s failure to discuss issues, such as identifying children with special needs and additional supports in the classroom regardless of race or location of school. But I was shocked when several panelists demeaned the concept of educational choice, which has enabled me to give my children the education they need.

The panel included state Sen. Darryl Rouson, who was more sympathetic to parental choice, as well as education activists and people who work in the local school system.

Cindy Stuart, a member of the Hillsborough County School Board, pointed fingers at parents who were leaving public schools, calling us examples of “white flight.” She scolded affluent families who leave their assigned schools for schools of choice, suggesting they should instead “stay and fight for public schools.”

I took offense at this unfair characterization of my family’s choices. We are, for the record, leaving public schools for a different reason. I’d call it “ESE flight.” I am Native American. My husband is Filipino. Our children are of multiple races, and all of them come from the foster care system. We are tired of fighting the school system, only to receive little support and no assistance.