BRUNSWICK COUNTY, N.C. (WECT) - Claire Ruehle decided she wanted to study abroad in the United States while on a trip to New York City.
She saw a public school bus on the trip and took a picture. When she returned home and contemplated her academic future, she decided a year outside of her comfort zone might help her decide what she wants to study.
However, after a year of applying and waiting, a trans-Atlantic flight and adjustment to her host-family, Ruehle may be headed back to Germany.
When she arrived in the U.S. and into the care of the Parsons family, who live in Brunswick County, she initially thought things had finally worked out.
“It worked from the first second,” Ruehle said. “I love it here.”
In the midst of shopping for school uniforms for the private school Ruehle was supposed to attend, Kim Parsons said they found out there was a problem.
The school, she said, had incorrectly marked a form — indicating it had a particular accreditation necessary for Ruehle to attend through her exchange program — and that meant she could not enroll in the school.
The Parsons have a daughter at West Brunswick High School, so Kim Parsons said they immediately tried to enroll Ruehle.
The school system denied their request, saying the deadline for foreign exchange students to apply is July 1 of each year.
That deadline is indeed indicated in the school’s policy language, so Parsons said they contacted the school board to try to get an exception, but she said they received only curt responses.
“The response we’ve got from the people we have spoken with at the county offices has been very matter-of-fact and it has lacked all compassion," Parsons said. "I just I don’t understand.”
In response to a request for comment from WECT, a school spokesperson referred to the school system’s policy, saying they would not offer any other comment at this time.
Emails to the entire board and a phone call to board chair Catherine Cooke — who Parsons says they’ve been in touch with — have not been returned.
Late Friday afternoon, Parsons said they thought the situation had been resolved after community outcry and a letter Ruehle sent to the board, because they received a call saying she could enroll after all.
Ten minutes later, she said, they received another call rescinding that information, with Cooke citing the board’s attorney.
Parsons said they’ve also reached out to New Hanover County Schools for guidance, but unless they can find a host family in the district, it would be difficult for Ruehle to make the switch, because commuting from Supply to New Hanover County would be extremely difficult.
New Hanover, Parsons said, is willing to make an exception for Ruehle given the circumstances, which she said only adds to her frustration that Brunswick County will not.
“I feel like I know if New Hanover would have made an exception, Brunswick County could also make an exception for this child,” Parsons said.
Ruehle said her main motivations for attending school in the U.S. are to experience another culture, because she feels that can have a profound effect on one’s life.
“You learn more, you have more empathy with people, you understand more things, and I think that’s what this is all about, because I meet my host siblings and then we talk together and we find similarities and we understand each other and you just learn to sympathize with people more,” she said.
If they cannot find a solution by Monday, Parsons said Ruehle may have to return home.
Ruehle’s parents in Germany have been in touch with the school system as well, but Parsons said they’ve also received conflicting information.
Parsons said she understands that policies and rules exist for a reason, but feels sticking strictly to them in a situation where the issue is no fault of the student isn’t the “right” thing to do.
“I want my school board members to have the heart to do that. To stand up and do what’s right. That’s what I want from my county school board,” she said.
A post with Ruehle’s letter to the board shared on the WECT Community Voice Facebook page has received more than 180 comments and been shared 63 times in the last 24 hours.
Parsons said Friday afternoon the family has contacted an attorney.