NC family lost dad in beach accident. Now it’s fighting school over child’s teacher.

A Raleigh family that saw their father die in a tragic beach accident is now fighting the Wake County school system to get the teacher they say is needed to help their youngest child cope with the tragedy.

Lee Dingle, 37, was vacationing at Oak Island on July 19 when an intense wave knocked him down and broke his neck, The News & Observer previously reported.

In the aftermath, his wife, Shannon Dingle, has gone on social media to voice her frustration over not being able to persuade her daughter’s principal to assign her child to the teacher she wants for the upcoming school year.

Shannon’s youngest daughter, Zoe, 7, has cerebral palsy and according to her Individualized Education Program (IEP) would benefit from being with teachers she knows. But Dingle says that Joyner Elementary School in Raleigh is not assigning Zoe to a familiar second-grade teacher.

“I’m trying to help my six grieving children,” Dingle said in an interview Friday. “I don’t understand why something that doesn’t have to be a difficulty is being one.”

Joyner’s principal, Jennifer Zezza, is citing logistical problems with accommodating Dingle’s request. That response prompted Dingle to make her frustrations public Thursday night on Twitter. Her tweet has produced strong reaction from people accusing school officials of being heartless.

“Honestly,” Andrea DeWard, a Michigan parent, tweeted Friday. “They went through so much in the past just to get certain things in place and it shouldn’t have been so hard. Don’t put Shannon through that again. Please help. Do right by this family.”

Lisa Luten, a Wake County school system spokeswoman, said that the district is aware of the situation but that federal student privacy laws limit what she could say.

Shannon Dingle is a Christian writer and activist whose writing has been featured in USA Today, The Washington Post and Teen Vogue. She is a survivor of sex trafficking and abuse as a child, and her activism focuses on religion, sexual assault and disability advocacy.

In May, she wrote about her childhood pregnancy and miscarriage at age 12 in a USA Today opinion article in opposition to strict abortion laws in Ohio and Alabama.

The family has six children through birth and by adoption. The couple’s adoption of Zoe was documented by The Archibald Project, a group that raises awareness about and advocates for orphans worldwide.

Trying to accommodate student’s IEP

Zoe is starting second grade in August and would have normally been in one of the classrooms housed in trailers, Dingle said. But due to her mobility issues that require her to use a wheelchair and walker, Dingle said the school agreed to have one of the second-grade classrooms inside the building.

Dingle said that as part of her daughter’s IEP she requested that Zoe be assigned to a teacher she knows. Due to staff turnover, Dingle said, there’s only one second-grade teacher who meets that requirement.

In an email Thursday to Dingle, Zezza said she’s run Dingle’s request through the IEP team and central office. But the principal said the teacher that Dingle wants will be in one of the trailers this year.

Zezza said that Joyner’s enrollment is growing, so it doesn’t have the flexibility to add an additional second-grade classroom inside the building.

Zezza said that they tried to accommodate Dingle’s request for familiarity in a different way, such as having her in the building near her former teachers.

“We have thought a lot about everything and are here to support each of you,” Zezza wrote. “We carefully took your requests of people she is most familiar with and placed Zoe with peers she loves learning alongside and vice versa as everyone adores Zoe.”

Dingle, who has a master’s degree in special education, said she can’t understand why her request isn’t being accommodated. She said that the school could reassign the teacher she wants to the classroom inside the building.

“It’s ridiculous given what we already know with her need for familiarity, and given how close she was with my husband and her dad,” Dingle said. “Every morning she says, ‘I miss papa.’ I tell her ‘I miss papa too.’”

Dingle said the fight over Zoe’s teacher is complicating the challenges that the family is going through right how.

“We can’t change the reality of my husband being dead and them seeing him die,” Dingle said. “We can’t change the reality of everything being different. There are things we’re navigating differently now that I’m a single mother of six.”

A GoFundMe page has raised more than $300,000 to help support the family.

“We are hugely grateful for the outpouring of support and people coming to show their compassion and support,” Dingle said. “But right now there is a lot of uncertainty.”

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T. Keung Hui has covered K-12 education for the News & Observer since 1999, helping parents, students, school employees and the community understand the vital role education plays in North Carolina. His primary focus is Wake County, but he also covers statewide education issues.