It's embarrassing to say, but my 9-year-old daughter hasn't been to school in more than a month.
It's not that she doesn't like learning. She does. Before a bullying incident made her afraid to go to school, she had earned A's, B's, and two C's, and she looked forward to attending class at her elementary school, Thomas H. Dudley in Camden.
The bullying changed all that. One day in March, a 14-year-old student dragged her down a school hallway and into a bathroom where other students were waiting. There, another 9-year old girl accosted her while older girls encouraged both of them to keep throwing punches. This went on for 20 minutes.
The students who assaulted my daughter were suspended for just three days, and they're all back in school now.
No adults saw the attack, but it was caught on a surveillance camera. When I was finally able to watch the video a few weeks afterward, I was disgusted.
I have refused to allow my daughter to return to school in an environment where her safety and welfare do not appear to be a top concern.
The Camden school district has offered my daughter limited home instruction, but it's hardly enough to make up for what she is missing every day by not being in the classroom.
So now I am doing what I can to give my daughter a decent education myself. I never thought I would be in this position while living in modern-day New Jersey, but I have no choice.
I look for deals at museums, such as the $5 apiece I recently paid for us to visit the African American Museum in Philadelphia. My daughter brought along her composition book, and I encouraged her to write about what she saw.
After the museum visit, we walked back across the Ben Franklin Bridge to Camden. When we got home, we looked up the history of the bridge. She wrote about that, too.
I taught preschool for a few years, but I'm not a viable substitute for a well-trained third-grade teacher. So I fear that my daughter is not getting the education she is entitled to under the state constitution. And she can't help but wonder why the public school system would let this happen to her.
My daughter is a perfect example of someone who could thrive in a different environment where she is not concerned for her safety. But I can't afford to send her to a private school.
That's why I support state legislation known as the Opportunity Scholarship Act. It would allow my daughter to obtain a scholarship to attend a parochial or other private school, or to go to a different public school. The legislation, sponsored by state Assemblymen Angel Fuentes (D., Camden) and Lou Greenwald (D., Camden), would provide a total of 20,000 children in seven school districts, including Camden's, with annual scholarships — $6,000 each for elementary school students and $9,000 each for high school students.
I've heard there are some who oppose this legislation. I hope they'll consider the experience my daughter had in her public school and reconsider their positions. Children like her can't afford to wait any longer for other options.
Milagros Torres lives in Camden.