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Young Girl Wins Struggle To Go To Class

September 8, 1986

VENUS, Texas (AP) _ A 7-year-old girl who must use a plastic tube to breathe is attending second grade this year after a year-long fight with school officials who didn’t want to help her clear the tube each day.

Shelley Clower’s windpipe wasn’t fully developed at birth. Doctors inserted a tube in her neck, enabling her to breathe.

But the tube must be cleared by suction up to three times a day, and school officials declined to do it, fearing liability if something went wrong.

The district relented after a group representing handicapped Texans filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education. The school district, about 30 miles southwest of Dallas, agreed in May to provide a machine to perform the procedure and train staff members to use it.

″It’s been harder on Shelley, more than anything else,″ said Jeannie Clower, her mother. ″She thought nobody cared about her because they wouldn’t take care of her at school.″

Last year, Shelley had to go home at least once a day for the suction procedure.

″She would tell the teacher, who would call me or my husband or her grandmother,″ said Ms. Clower. ″It would take anywhere from 30 to 45 minutes each time.″

This year, Ms. Clower quit her job so she could sit by the phone and wait for the summons to pick up her daughter. At that point, Shelley’s parents decided to ask the school board to help.

Shelley, who weighs 34 pounds, had surgery when she was 1 week old to correct a defective heart valve. At 3 months, she underwent surgery again to install the breathing tube. She also has asthma and a stomach ailment, and her breathing must be monitored when she sleeps.

Shelley was hospitalized in November with pneumonia. The girl, who makes A’s and B’s, was put on a homebound program for the spring semester.

Advocacy Inc., an Austin-based group, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education in February. The group argued the school district was not complying with a federal law, the Education for All Handicapped Children Act.

The Education Department could have sought to cut off federal money to the Venus school district if it did not comply with the law.

″There were questions about liability,″ said Superintendent Preston Holland. ″But once we had all the information we needed, the board had no problem. We had no intention of denying an education to anyone.″

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