Giant wave of letters about to break over child with ponytail: 3D illustration elements

Durham Public Schools’ Exceptional Children Services ‘Horrifically Underserved My Son’

From the time she adopted Anthony, at age 4, Wendy Tonker knew he was special. 

He was special because he was diagnosed with autism, ADHD and an intellectual disability. 

Anthony, now 21, has been enrolled in Durham Public Schools’ (DPS) Exceptional Children Services (EC) program since elementary school. “I have been fighting with DPS EC for a decade now,” Tonker said. “They have horrifically underserved my son.”

Not all students process information identically, respond to their environments the same way or can control their behavior with the same restraint. Yet they are held to the same standard punishment system in school. “Someone who might have an attention deficit disorder and can’t stay still is standing up in class, walking around and is distracting the teacher; that person could be charged with disorderly conduct at school just from the definition of the law,” said Eric Zogry, with the North Carolina Office of the Juvenile Defender.

Durham: 2 tall young men and a short middle-aged women stand together in front of a brick building.

North Carolina’s Raise the Age Law Highlights How Schools Handle Discipline

“We don’t know how many students are casualties of a racist system, in which they are punished for being in their bodies, for being brown and black kids, and we’ve got to do something,” said Fatimah Salleh, mother of two former students at Durham School of the Arts (DSA) in Durham, N.C. “If we are not really aggressive about it, then it will be the way America has always deemed it to be.”