When Hunter Cmelo was once again late for school, his mom knew that he’d be in trouble. After all, this would be his third offence, and three strikes always resulted in detention. But the punishment that teachers devised for Hunter this time left her heartbroken and outraged. And, as it turned out, she wasn’t the only one appalled at the school’s behavior.
Hunter’s story came to the world’s attention in February 2015. On this particular day, the six-year-old arrived late to Lincoln Elementary School in Grants Pass, Oregon, and he was already in tears because he expected to be punished. His mom, Nicole Garloff, also knew that a detention was inevitable.
As Garloff told ABC News, if a pupil of Lincoln Elementary is late three times, they can expect to be detained. And this was indeed Hunter’s third offence, so his punishment was already set. Garloff knew, however, that Hunter would be upset, so she decided to check on him during a lunch break.
So when she saw how his detention was being enforced, Garloff was shocked to say the least. After all, the little boy was sat all alone in the cafeteria, purposefully set apart from the rest of the children. Moreover, the teachers seemed to have deliberately fostered a sense of shame, as evidenced by the cardboard divider placed in front of Hunter’s face.
“He was at the first table as you walk into the cafeteria,” Garloff told ABC News. “He was just sitting there with one of those cardboard poster partitions in front of him.” Also beside him was an upturned cup marked with the letter “D” – apparently for “detention,” but perhaps for “dunce” as well.
According to the school, the idea behind this type of detention is that it allows students to use their lunch break to catch up on work missed by lateness – minus any distractions. Because Hunter had only been a few minutes late, however, he was instructed to study a book instead.
“I was really upset,” Garloff explained to ABC News. “He wasn’t tardy so many times that he deserved that.” What’s more, she was incensed that Hunter was being shamed in front of his peers in such a degrading way.
Garloff also believed that she, not Hunter, was responsible for her son’s tardiness. Indeed, Garloff suffers from osteoporosis – a condition that weakens the bones and causes a lot of pain – so it’s often a struggle for her to move in the morning. This further means that getting in the car isn’t always straightforward.
And, on this particular day, getting behind the wheel wasn’t the only problem, for Garloff’s worn-out Dodge Durango wasn’t exactly reliable. She’d also postponed getting it fixed because she didn’t, unfortunately, have enough money to repair it. And while they did have a second car, it was just as untrustworthy.
So with Hunter’s dad at work, it was the stay-at-home mom’s responsibility to take her son, his younger sister Savannah and their cousins to school each morning. The family’s vehicles, though, had other ideas.
Now when, after snapping the pictures of Hunter’s detention on her iPad, Garloff shared one of them on Facebook, the story soon went viral. In fact, local radio host Bill Meyer heard about it and described the scene on his show. Meyer said the little boy was being punished for a problem that was beyond his control, and he wanted to help prevent it from happening again.
Indeed, the broadcaster told ABC News that, while he reports on a lot of bad news, he rarely has the chance to make a difference. This time, however, it was different. “I saw the school policy as being unjust, but I saw the root of the trouble was car trouble,” he said.
So Meyer contacted his friend Lisa McClease-Kelly, who runs auto-repair shop Kelly’s Automotive, to ask a favor. Fortunately, she agreed to his suggestion without hesitation, partly because she’s had first-hand experience of her own child being shamed by a school.
As a result, McClease-Kelly offered $500 worth of repairs to get the Dodge Durango up and running. On receipt of the vehicle, however, McClease-Kelly realized that it would cost a whole lot more to get it back in tip-top condition. More, in fact, than the car was worth.
Luckily, though, McClease-Kelly took a call from David Stepp at Rapid Repo & Collections, who, after learning of Garloff’s quandary, was keen to lend a hand. Therefore, in what was a hugely generous gesture, Stepp agreed to donate a Chrysler Town & Country van to Garloff and her family.
The 2001-built van needed a bit of work, but it was nothing that Kelly’s Automotive couldn’t sort out. In fact, the vehicle was roadworthy in next to no time after a new windshield was donated by a glass-repair shop and a local tire company donated new tires.
McClease-Kelly, who recalled the series of events on her blog, said that the looks on the family’s faces when they picked up their new vehicle were “priceless.” Garloff, meanwhile, told ABC News how it had all come as a complete surprise. “We thought we were going there to be told that our Durango was not going to be fixable at all,” she said. “We were so shocked, it doesn’t seem real.”
With a further donation of a $100 gas card, free oil changes for 12 months and vouchers for local restaurants, the community helped to ensure that Hunter would never miss the start of lessons again. And, of course, that he could have a little treat.
A school detention had spread, remarkably quickly, into the uniting of a community to help a family in need. “This family never asked for help,” radio host Bill Meyer told ABC News. “All they ever wanted was to change the school policy. We saw a way to do a little nudge, and then everyone else came in with their time and generosity.”
There was success, too, in changing Lincoln Elementary School’s disciplinary measures. It agreed to foster a more “supportive and caring environment” for its catch-up learners in future. And this will hopefully mean that no more children suffer the same humiliation as Hunter did.