In December 2011, Crystal Morales was a senior at Newport Harbor High School. She was crossing the street on her way to school when she was struck by a drunk driver. She sustained a traumatic brain injury. She fortunately survived and was able to return to Newport Harbor three months later to finish her senior year.
Her teachers noticed her difficulty with walking and speaking, as well as with remembering things. It made her senior year studies a lot more difficult.
Next thing Morales knew, her current D in math (a grade she’d had well before the injury took place) magically became an A-plus on her report card. Her current classes underwent a similar transformation. In English class, she was given a book to read and told to write a report on it, but when the rest of the class turned their assignments in, nobody followed up with Morales to ask for her report.
According to the Daily Pilot, Morales is charging administrators and teachers within the Newport-Mesa Unified School District with rushing her toward graduation in order to end their obligation to educate her. She has opened a lawsuit against the district, asking the judge to invalidate her diploma and essentially force the district to “provide a redo” for the last few months of her education after the injury.
On their side, school district officials say Morales was given accommodations for meeting school requirements on account of her injury, based on the “sound discretion of school personnel.” Further, they say that they discussed Morales’ educational needs regularly with Gloria Morales, Crystal’s mother, as soon as she returned to school. Her mother, they say, declined their offer of a special education assessment — it was Gloria Morales, they say, who pushed for graduation.
“[Morales] mother was adamant that she wanted [Morales] to graduate with a high school diploma, and did not want [Morales] assessed for special education,” said a response the school district filed in court.
Gloria Morales contends that Crystal’s personality underwent a huge change after the brain injury, and that she returned her to school as early as possible in hopes of pulling Crystal out of the depression she was experiencing. She also wanted Crystal to be able to cross the graduation stage with all her friends, like any high school senior hopes to do.
“Knowing what I know now, I would have never returned her to campus for the reason that we did,” Gloria Morales told the Los Angeles Times.
Sent to College Unprepared
Once Crystal graduated in 2010, she enrolled in classes designed for students with brain injuries at Coastline Community College. But the ease with which she had passed her last year of high school left her unprepared for normal classes. Gloria Morales says now that Crystal didn’t realize what her limitations would be. After failing most of her first semester classes, Crystal asked to leave the community college program.
As of now, Crystal is not seeking any financial damages. She is simply asking for the opportunity to get the education she did not receive. In the words of her attorney:
“Public education is guaranteed to all children, and that’s not a piece of paper. It’s the right to learn. All she wants is that basic education so she can go out and make a life for herself.”
Who We Are
If you have been put at a disadvantage because of a traumatic brain injury, health, call us at the Brain Injury Law Center. We have years of experience helping people obtain justice in the wake of life-altering brain injury. Call us at 757.244.7000 or fill out the form on the right side of this page.