ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. â€” The school year begins next week for most students in New Mexico, but, in the town of Estancia, a 10-year-old boy will stay home, reluctantly, relegated from his classmates because of a rare neuropsychological condition that his mother says can be quelled only with the use of medical marijuana â€“ and thatâ€™s not allowed on campus.
Now, neither is his mother.
But Tisha Brick is not giving up on getting her son the medication, education and socialization he needs. She has filed a complaint against the Estancia Municipal School District, claiming school officials have prohibited her son, Anthony, from using medical marijuana on campus and have retaliated against them as a result.
A six-day due process hearing before a state Department of Education hearing officer begins Aug. 20 in Estancia.
Brick joins the parents around the country for whom medical marijuana has been both a salvation for their sick children and a struggle, because its use is often in conflict with state and federal laws.
In New Mexico, medical marijuana is legal but prohibited in certain locations, including school grounds.
â€śThe school shouldnâ€™t be putting parents through this for our children,â€ť Brick said. â€śIf they had just sat down and worked with me, we wouldnâ€™t be here now.â€ť
She describes her son as smart and high functioning at times, but, as a toddler, he began showing signs of developmental delays. He had bouts of psychosis, mood swings, lengthy tantrums, hand tremors. After years of trial and error, evaluations, hospitalizations and heartbreak, Anthony was given a complex diagnosis of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder, sensory integration disorder and a form of schizophrenia that is especially rare and severe in children.
â€śIt was really, really a hellish journey,â€ť Brick said. â€śWeâ€™ve been through every hospital, agency, evaluator, psychologist, psychiatrist in the state and tried all kinds of medications that left him not functional, his head down all day. I was desperate to find a way for this kid to live. There had to be a way.â€ť
Under a doctorâ€™s care in 2015, Anthony began treatment using a combination of medical marijuana and CBD oil and was stabilized enough to attend Estancia Elementary School as a second-grader.
For the first time, his mother said, he had friends.
â€śIt was such a breakthrough, such a joy to see him blossom,â€ť she said.
The school allowed her to administer the medical marijuana on campus, she said. In March 2017, the schoolâ€™s principal, social worker, occupational therapist and speech and language pathologist signed a note stating that Anthony had exhibited such â€śsignificant positive changesâ€ť as a result of the medical marijuana that they agreed it was â€śintegral to his ability to access learning opportunities and function appropriately in school.â€ť
But when new principal Mindy Lingnau took over in fall 2017, things changed. Brick said it appeared the team effort to work with her and her son was broken. Worst of all, Anthony was no longer allowed to receive medical marijuana on campus.
Without his medication to keep him stabilized, Brick said, she was forced to stop sending Anthony to school, beginning Nov. 14.
â€śWhat choice did I have?â€ť she said. â€śThis kid did nothing wrong. He shouldnâ€™t have been completely flushed from the system.â€ť
Brick began writing lengthy emails to Lingnau and others, trying to remedy what in one of the emails she described as a â€śdifference in personalities, fear of change, inexperience and change of position/district.â€ť
But in a Jan. 23 letter to Brick, Estancia School Superintendent Joel Shirley called the emails hostile and voluminous and accused her of making threats and being offensive to Lingnau and other staff â€“ claims Brick denies.
Brickâ€™s emails to school officials were also blocked, and she was banned from campus.
When she continued to refuse to return Anthony to school, the state Children, Youth and Families Department was called in to investigate her for neglecting Anthony and failing to feed him enough. Those allegations were unsubstantiated, according to a Feb. 7 letter from CYFD.
Shirley, contacted this week, said he and other school officials are prohibited under privacy laws from commenting on the Brick case, hinting that there is â€śmore to it than it appears.â€ť
Shirley also said that he is obligated to follow state law. And because federal law still classifies all marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, schools are at risk of losing Title 1 funding and U.S. Department of Agriculture funding for school lunches if found in violation of drug-free requirements.
Shirley said he takes no issue with medical marijuana itself, provided it is prescribed by a doctor.
â€śIâ€™m more than happy to talk to legislators from my end as an educator,â€ť he said. â€śWith all the reading Iâ€™ve done on the subject, a common sense approach to this is needed, because this isnâ€™t going away.â€ť
And neither is Brick.
Because of her limited resources, she is serving as her own attorney at the due process hearing, and invites the public to attend.
Depending on the outcome, she intends to file a lawsuit against the school district and continue the fight, not just for her son, but all children for whom medical marijuana is a lifeline.
â€śWe didnâ€™t do anything wrong to deserve to be booted from that school,â€ť she said. â€śThis is my only avenue to fight for Anthony, because no one else is.â€ť
UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column. Comment directly to Joline at 823-3603, email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @jolinegkg. Go to www.abqjournal.com/letters/new to submit a letter to the editor.