Lauren Ritchie: Thanks to family's fight, young students not barred from college

Lake-Sumter Community College has been thoroughly spanked.

Two years ago, the college refused to admit as a dual-enrollment student a then-12-year-old Center Hill girl who was more than academically qualified to study at the two-year community college.

Instead of enthusiastically embracing Anastasia Megan, a brilliant young woman home-schooled by her parents, college administrators took the most backward stance imaginable and fought to keep her out.

Each time they put up a roadblock, Annie's parents dashed it aside. Then the college would create another "problem," ranging from administrators' angst about her social maturity to fears that she wouldn't be safe on campus. At first, they didn't want her attending without a parent. Then they didn't want her attending with one.

Sigh.

Sometimes it seems as if Lake County is competing for a trophy — Most Bush-League Performance by an Educator. If so, we win first place.

However, two people in this scenario — Annie's parents — kept their eye on the goal: the best possible education for the student. Forget the parochial twaddle.

The result is that LSCC today is open to any dual-enrollment student who can meet the academic standards, regardless of age.

The U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights in Atlanta, to whom Annie's family complained, recently closed the matter after LSCC eliminated its age requirement, trained employees to stop discriminating and offered Annie a chance to apply.

This is how it should have been in the first place.

Annie, one of a set of triplets, was just finishing her high-school studies in 2010 when she applied to LSCC. Clearly, at 12, she was too young to live alone at college away from her family. At the time, Annie scored a 98 in reading and a 97 in sentence skills on college-placement tests for which passing is 83.

However, by the time LSCC offered to consider Annie in July 2011, it was clear that her course of study already had outstripped what the community college could provide.

Starting in August, Annie, now 14, and another of the triplets, her brother Zigmund, will attend Queens University in Ontario, Canada. She was among 300 successful applicants to the college of business and commerce from a field of 5,000.

"We're delighted, and Annie is beside herself — she's euphoric," said her father, John Megan.

Annie's brother is entering the university's engineering school (Annie's second choice), and the third triplet, Elizabeth, is enrolled in a high-school International Baccalaureate program.

The Megan family has done a real service for other super-smart local kids, and it deserves the community's thanks.

More important, such a ruling by the Office for Civil Rights is likely to have an effect on community colleges statewide. It's all about access in community colleges, and that's the way it ought to be.

The Megan family neither asked for nor received a nickel in damages. The Megans didn't hire a lawyer.

LSCC, however, spent about $12,000 on attorney fees fighting to discriminate against a kid whose achievements were remarkable.

College President Charles Mojock said all students now will be admitted if they meet academic requirements. He said the school will consult with parents about whether the student is mature enough to navigate the campus alone or may need an older "buddy" assigned.

That was easily solved, wasn't it?

Asked why the college ever would fight to keep any student out, Mojock said: "That was then, and this is now. We live and learn too."

Indeed.

The college — and the students who live here — can only benefit by administrators actively seeking the very best of students, regardless of their age. They ought to be trolling the Advanced Placement classes and encouraging those students to dual-enroll.

John Megan said he's pleased with the outcome: "For anyone who has a young hot runner, dual enrollment now is open to them. There are other Annies out there, and I'd like to see them have a chance to go."

Lritchie@tribune.com Her blog is online at OrlandoSentinel.com/laureninlake

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