In a Family Crisis, Our Public High School Failed Us

In early January 2007, my oldest daughter went to her Mother and said, “I need help now.  I want to kill myself.”

Her Mom immediately took her to the ER at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.  As a retired Army officer, that’s where my family and I got our medical care.

Of course, crises don’t occur during normal business hours, so after a quick initial assessment, the ER staff had to recall people from the psychiatry department.  When they arrived, they did a detailed assessment and confirmed that she was in a state of severe clinical depression.  Arrangements were made to transfer her to Sheppard-Pratt at Ellicott City, an inpatient psychiatric facility serving adults and adolescents.

A few days later, we learned of a special partial hospitalization program for adolescents.  She was transferred there, and we began a five-month routine of driving her to 41 miles each way to Fort Belvoir in the morning and back again in the afternoon, two round-trips a day.

That turned out to be the best decision we ever made.  She’s fine, now.

Because the program was intended for adolescents, part of it involved study time.  In effect, in between treatment, she would do classwork assigned by her high school.

One of the worst decisions we made was to trust her high school counselor to post the A’s and B’s she received on the work done at the Fort Belvoir program.  Because it wasn’t posted, what should have been a spectacular year of achievement turned into a year of barely passing.

When we confronted her counselor we were told there was nothing that could be done.  The records of her work at Fort Belvoir had been discard.

In retrospect, at that point we should have pulled her from the school and either home schooled her or sent her to Catholic school.  But we were still in shock, and she continued at that same high school.

For the next few days, I’m going to write about what I wish we had known.

About Joel Whitaker

Joel Whitaker is a long-time professional journalist (Tampa Bay Times, Wall Street Journal, Philadelphia Bulletin, Institutional Investor, executive newsletters) and Catholic convert. He is the RCIA coordinator for his parish.
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