After a brave little girl lost her mom, she missed just one day of school to attend the funeral. And at the time, the girl’s family were convinced that they’d done the right thing in pulling her out of class. Unbelievably, though, the student later found herself punished for the situation.
That girl was Maddie Stevens, who in 2012 was nine years old. Back then, she lived in Exhall, England, with her mom, Gail, while her dad, Andy, lived just around the corner with his wife. However, that year Maddie’s life would take a tragic turn.
That’s because doctors would diagnose Maddie’s mom, Gail, with breast cancer – and, sadly, the disease was terminal. As a result, the schoolgirl’s parents put measures in place to prepare her for the loss of her mother. She began staying over more often at her dad’s home, for example, so that she could feel as settled as possible when the time came for her to move in with him full-time.
And tragically, by the end of 2013, Gail’s family knew that the end was in sight. “In November, we were told it would be a matter of months before Gail would die,” Maddie’s dad Andy told the Coventry Telegraph newspaper in 2014. He added, “We were really hoping it wouldn’t be at Christmas, and we tried to do our best for Maddie.”
With that in mind, the family came together to create some precious memories with Gail while they could. And little Maddie was over the moon when she received her dream gift – ice-skating lessons – from her mom at Christmas. They would sadly be the last present that the mother gave to her cherished daughter, however.
Andy explained to the Coventry Telegraph, “Gail’s birthday was on Boxing Day [December 26], so she was allowed out of Myton Hospice for that, but she was so sick she could hardly get off the [couch].” He went on, “When [Gail] went back [into the hospice] again after that, that was it – she didn’t come back out.” Heartbreakingly, Gail would pass away in January 2014.
And while the loss understandably left Maddie completely devastated, the brave little girl did her best to get on with her life. The then 11-year-old was in her final year of junior school, and her exams were looming at the end of the academic year. So, Maddie’s dad thought that it was best if life carried on as normal for his daughter.
Consequently, Maddie went to school virtually every day in the weeks and months that followed her mother’s death. However, there was one occasion that required the girl to miss classes – Gail’s funeral. Little did the family realize, though, that the school would later punish Maddie for saying a final farewell to her mom.
And that incident occurred in July 2014, when Maddie was shocked to discover that she had not been invited to a school trip to a local Frankie & Benny’s restaurant. The occasion was organized as a celebration for kids who had achieved 100 percent attendance. But because she had failed to attend one day of school – the day of her mom’s funeral – Maddie wasn’t allowed to go.
And when Maddie returned home that evening and explained to her dad what had happened, she was furious. “When she told me about it last night, she was really angry, but I don’t think she really wanted to talk about it,” Andy told the Coventry Telegraph back in 2014. “So, we’re doing our best to make sure it doesn’t affect her too much. It just makes me furious that the school didn’t think twice about Maddie’s situation.”
“It’s just so insensitive after everything she has been through,” Andy added to the newspaper. “Maddie has been absolutely amazing since her mom died. She took only one day off to go the funeral because we wanted to keep things as normal for her as we could. But even if she’d taken a week off, I’d be saying this.”
A few days after the meal, moreover, Maddie left junior school to start a new chapter at secondary school. “It’s a big moment, leaving your junior school and moving on to somewhere new,” Andy explained. “It’s obviously a time when Maddie’s mom would have been with her to help.” Instead, the girl was penalized for choosing to attend her own mom’s funeral service.
Andy was so livid over the school’s insensitive actions, meanwhile, that he approached the local press. And when reporters asked Maddie her thoughts on the issue, her response was as heartbreaking as it was understated. “It made me feel sad not to be able to go because a few of my friends went,” she said. “It would have been a nice treat. Helping my mom out for the past two years has been hard.”
What’s more, it didn’t take long for Maddie’s story to go viral in the U.K. Before long, in fact, even celebrities were chiming in on the situation. “What a heartbreaking story! Sometimes people can be absolute b**tards! This has made me so angry,” British comedian Jason Manford said. “If you’re reading this, Maddie, or Maddie’s dad, get in touch and I’ll send you to Frankie & Benny’s my bloody self!”
And in time, countless famous faces, business people and members of the public would all pledge their support for Maddie. Many of them also donated money to the hospice that had cared for Gail during her final days. Frankie & Benny’s, meanwhile, would give Maddie a free meal, while her favorite ice hockey team – Coventry Blaze – also invited her to come for a VIP fan experience.
And the generous response to Maddie’s story overwhelmed Andy. “We really cannot believe it. It’s gone completely mad, and we’ve had so many offers,” he said to the Coventry Telegraph. The father continued, “It’s just been unbelievable. We did not expect any of this, and we didn’t tell our story because we wanted something.”
“The nicest thing of all is that donations for Maddie’s Myton Hospices charity page have gone mad. That’s absolutely brilliant,” Andy added. “She and I did a walk to raise money for Myton, because that’s where her mom died. We’ve had about £300 [$400] in the last few days.” And he concluded by saying, “If Myton can get something out of all of this, that’s the most important thing. After all, they need the money more than anybody.”
And following the public outcry, the head teacher of Maddie’s school – St. Giles’ Junior School in Bedworth – would speak out. In her statement, Anne Perry said that she was “truly sorry” about the situation, and that the school “did not intend to upset or offend anyone who was unable to attend school for medical or compassionate reasons.”
Perry further explained that the school used a data system to identify children with perfect attendance. However, no reasons for absence were supplied with the statistics. The school has since ditched the system, however. “Following concerns raised, the rewarding of pupils for 100 percent attendance has been withdrawn,” a spokesperson later told the Coventry Telegraph.
But although what happened to Maddie was widely held to be unacceptable, all was not lost. Following the media coverage her story received, her crowdfunding page raised more than $4,500 for Myton Hospice. “I was sad for one day because I missed a school trip,” Maddie later wrote in an update. “I am glad now I missed out, because it means that all this money has been raised for Myton.”