Falling through the cracks: Military families say their special-needs children are especially vulnerable
VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — When Navy Capt. Cassidy Norman was assigned executive officer of the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman, he and his wife, Michelle, were relieved. His career path was taking them back to Virginia Beach — where they’d lived before and knew to be a good fit for their severely disabled daughter.
The Normans were the quintessential military officer family. Cass served in combat and climbed the ranks paying his dues. He and Michelle had learned to balance the demands of family and a military that would take him away from home for months. Even their daughter Marisa’s needs were being managed.
But the leadership had changed at Marisa’s school since they’d last been there, and with Cass away training, Michelle struggled alone against school officials to create an education plan that the Normans believed would give Marisa the tools she needed to learn. They believed the school minimized Marisa’s significant disabilities and declared her fine when she was flailing — assertions a hearing officer later substantiated.
When he was home, Cass would call in or ditch his uniform to attend meetings as often as he could, not wanting to use his office inappropriately. But they soon concluded that they were in a battle — with their daughter’s future hanging in the balance.
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