13-Year-Old Piano Prodigy Treated As Truant In DC Public Schools To Parents Dismay

Avery Gagliano is a 13-year-old piano prodigy who has traveled the world playing at prestigious events with world renowned orchestras. The 13-year-old prodigy was one of 12 musicians selected to perform in orchestras across the globe. She was also selected as a music ambassador for Lang Lang Music Foundation, run by Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who handpicked Avery for the honor.

Washington Post reporter Petula Dvorak broke the story and spoke with Avery’s parents. According to the Washington Post article, Avery’s parents were notified that her travel performances would not be covered as excused absences. Therefore, she would be limited to 10 absences or face the possibility of being considered truant. Though Avery received straight A’s at Alice Deal Middle School in Washington DC and was by all accounts an accomplished professional pianist, it did not stop Avery’s parents from having to deal with truancy issues.

Jemea Goso, an attendance specialist with the DC school system, wrote an email to Avery’s parents that stated.

“As I shared during our phone conversation this morning, DCPS is unable to excuse Avery’s absences due to her piano travels, performances, rehearsals, etc.,”

Avery’s parents, Drew Gagliano and Ying Lam, said the email came just prior to Avery’s travels to Munich for a performance. Her parents did not understand why piano travels would not be covered as an excused absence if Avery was performing well in school and expanding her piano skills. The Washington Post notes that Avery’s parents say they did everything they could to persuade the school system. They created a portfolio of her musical achievements and academic record and drafted an independent study plan for the days she’d miss while touring the world. However, it did not immediately resolve any of the issues, and truancy was still on the table.

Following her 10th absence after the Munich performance, Avery’s parents were sent a letter stating that she was truant. Avery’s parents said they are now forced to homeschool Avery so that they don’t have to deal with all the red tape associated with truancy policies of the district. Therefore, when school started this year, Avery was withdrawn from Alice Deal Middle School and is now homeschooling with her parents while she travels and practices.

However, the Washington DC school district has come out saying that there was a misunderstanding and some vital information left out of the Washington Post story. The Washington City Paper reports DCPS Chancellor Kaya Henderson issued a blistering rebuke of the column in a statement yesterday, saying it was inaccurate and the school system never labeled Avery, the piano prodigy, as a truant. In fact, DCPS argues, it worked with family to accommodate the teen’s absences.

“We are disappointed Ms. Dvorak chose to present a false representation of DCPS’ response about this child’s circumstances rather than taking the time to collect the relevant facts,” the statement read. “We believe it is important to set the record straight.”

The statement regarding the issue read as follows:

“It seems that in this matter, while DCPS was working with the family to excuse the student’s absences, the automatic letter that is generated when a student reaches ten unexcused absences was sent. After a conversation with the Office of Youth Engagement, the family was told to disregard the letter. We also confirmed by phone for the parents that no CFSA referral had been completed, nor would this escalate any further. We believed our communication with the family as recently as August 25 clarified that Avery’s absences had been excused. We were surprised to learn that this is the reason why Avery was voluntarily withdrawn from her school. We sincerely apologize for any confusion that the cross-communication might have conveyed.”

Though the statement does clear up the fact that Avery would not be considered truant, it does not clear up the fact that the process of getting those absences excused was full of hardship and red tape. As Avery’s parents said in their statements to Dvorak in the Washington Post article, it took a lot of time and energy to create portfolios, send emails, communicate with the school district and get information to the district for the absences to be excused, even though the school was fully aware of Avery’s achievements. The question remains, why did it take the entire summer to resolve the truancy issue if the family was in constant communication with the district throughout the year.

Should common sense have overridden the truancy policies if the child was performing well in school while building a budding piano career? Do public school truancy policies take it too far for students such as Avery? Do you think homeschooling is a better option for Avery?