Avery Gagliano is a commanding young pianist who attacks Chopin with the focused diligence of a master craftsman and the grace of a ballet dancer. The prodigy, who just turned 13, was one of 12 musicians selected from across the globe to play at a prestigious event in Munich last year and has won competitions and headlined with orchestras nationwide
. But to the D.C. public school system, the eighth-grader from Mount Pleasant is also a truant. Yes, you read that right. Avery’s amazing talent and straight-A grades at Alice Deal Middle School earned her no slack from school officials
, despite her parents’ begging and pleading for an exception. “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.,” Jemea Goso, attendance specialist with the school system’s Office of Youth Engagement, wrote in an e-mail to Avery’s parents, Drew Gagliano and Ying Lam, last year before she left to perform in Munich.
Although administrators at Deal were supportive of Avery’s budding career and her new role as an ambassador for an international music foundation, the question of whether her absences violated the District’s truancy rules and law had to be kicked up to the main office. And despite requests, no one from the school system wanted to go on the record explaining its refusal to consider her performance-related absences as excused instead of unexcused. 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 as one of the star pianists selected by a prestigious Lang Lang Music Foundation, run by Chinese pianist Lang Lang, who handpicked Avery to be an international music ambassador. But the school officials wouldn’t budge, even though the truancy law gives them the option to decide what an unexcused absence is
. The law states that an excused absence can be “an emergency or other circumstances approved by an educational institution
.” Too bad, so sad. After 10 unexcused absences, it doesn’t matter whether a child was playing hooky to hang at the mall or charming audiences in Hong Kong with her mastery of Mozart. D.C. bureaucrats will label the kid a truant, will mar her transcript with that assessment and will assign a truancy officer to the case.