A kindergartner removed from the Mercer School District by his parents is now going to school in the North Lakeland School District. 

Five-and-a-half-year-old Lelyn Schmidt, born without eyes — a rare condition known as bilateral anophthalmia — and with a hearing problem as well, needs special care. 

In September, right after the start of the 2018-19 school year, his parents, Stormi and Ken Schmidt, who’d already removed their older son, Aedeyn, from the Mercer School District toward the end of the 2017-18 school year over bullying issues, removed Lelyn. 

“It’s been nonstop backlash from the district & community since we made the decision to transfer Aedeyn to another district,” Stormi Schmidt wrote in a Sept. 13 Facebook post she shared on a page titled “Seeing For Lelyn.” 

She said once Aedeyn began attending North Lakeland, the backlash she wrote about in the Facebook post began immediately. 

“I wasn’t considered ‘all in’ for Mercer school anymore,” Schmidt told The Lakeland Times for a story published on Sept. 28. “You’re only considered ‘all in’ if all your children go to Mercer and you, pretty much, abide by and don’t challenge ... you’re pretty much a sheep in the town. That doesn’t work with me.”

In early October, the North Lakeland School Board, after meeting in closed session, denied an alternative open enrollment request for Lelyn. 

NLS administrator Brent Jelinski sent a message to Stormi Schmidt immediately after the decision was made, stating the application had been denied because “the special education or related services described in your child’s IEP are not available in the North Lakeland School District.”

IEP stands for individualized education program. 

Stormi Schmidt told the Times shortly after the North Lakeland School Board decision she was disappointed, but understood why that was done. 

“They don’t have to provide the services if he’s non-district,” Schmidt said. “If he is in-district then they have to. They have to be able to build a curriculum for him, they need to have that in the budget.”

Since then 

The Schmidts didn’t waste any time finding a place to live within the North Lakeland School District, meeting the requirements necessary for Lelyn to become a student there. 

They still have their home in Mercer and are proceeding with litigation against the Mercer School District, Schmidt telling the Times last week at some point, they’d like to be out of the Mercer area altogether. 

In the meantime, despite some logistical day to day challenges, Lelyn has begun classes at North Lakeland, essentially picking up where he left off. 

For Stormi and Ken Schmidt, getting their son’s needs taken care of was the really important thing.  

“Lelyn started at North Lakeland Nov. 6,” she said.

Lelyn began with half-days, Stormi saying among the things to be done initially was getting him back into a routine and getting him acclimated to a new building setup at North Lakeland. 

“He’s been doing really good,” she said. “They’ve hired, from what I understand, three paraprofessionals. Lelyn is work and they’re willing at North Lakeland to do the work.”

Schmidt said one thing she’s noticed in the time since Lelyn has begun at North Lakeland is he no longer has what she describes as meltdowns he’d had when she’d pick him up from school at Mercer. 

“He’s doing really well,” she said. 

Over the past couple months, Schmidt said she’s been hearing “more and more” about Lelyn being secluded in a therapy room at the Mercer school. 

“Involvement in the classroom wasn’t there,” she said. “The kids (at North Lakeland) are just awesome. After nine days, the teachers have noticed already how Lelyn noticed the ceiling heights in the building.”

Schmidt said he’s been to every recess, every gym class, every music class.

She had one teacher share with her a student had told her the clapping Lelyn does made him nervous at first. 

Schmidt said the teacher explained to the student Lelyn can’t see so the clapping was how he sees. 

“He claps, it bounces off (the subject) and he gets that echo,” she said. “The kid turned around and said, ‘He’s really cool!’ I’m just really excited about the socialization he’s getting.”

Schmidt said Lelyn’s older brother, Aedeyn, loves having his little brother at North Lakeland with him and he teaches the other kids how to meet Lelyn.

“How to put their hand out, saying their name, having him feel,” she said. 

No wall

On Nov. 15, the sixth annual Deer Camp Pie Auction, a benefit for Lelyn conducted by the Manitowish Waters Lioness Club, was held. 

“We had a quite a few new faces there this year,” Schmidt said, adding some of that might be because of articles published in The Lakeland Times in September and October. “Lelyn’s new kindergarten class has 14 kids and what’s really cool is some of the kids in his class actually came to the pie auction this year. It was really cool to see the support that we got from the school.”

At recent parent-teacher conferences, Schmidt said she and Ken were stopped in a hallway by parents of other students who said they were glad to see Lelyn is able to go to North Lakeland. 

“They’d tell us their names but we were so overwhelmed,” she said. “We had probably six different parents come up to us and tell us they were following him on Facebook or through newspaper articles.” 

Schmidt said as far as the “rollercoasters on the medical side” to this point regarding their son Lelyn, she and Ken have been able to overcome those. 

“We’ve made everything work,” she said. “We work together as a team. There’s no wall that’s going to come between us and him.” 

Brian Jopek may be reached via email at bjopek@lakelandtimes.com.