Skip to main content

A Seattle mom’s searing letter to a truant officer

caption: Portrait of Sawyer Daughtrey, a Seattle middle schooler.
Enlarge Icon
Portrait of Sawyer Daughtrey, a Seattle middle schooler.
Courtesy of Cassie Daughtrey

In January, an “attendance specialist” from Whitman Middle School sent a form letter to a Seattle mom, which included a warning that her son being late to school (ceramics class, specifically) could result in court action. This is that mother’s response:

Dear Ms. Derrig and Mr. Houston,

I received a letter in the mail regarding Sawyer’s absences.

I have explained, several times, that I prioritize the mental health of my children, and therefore, they will be missing as much school as necessary to maintain their mental health.

Sawyer often struggles in the mornings and I allow him extra time to mentally prepare for school. This is a trauma informed approach I take with him because his mental health is more important than his academic success.

Sawyer’s father, Solomon Daughtrey, held a master’s degree, made the dean’s list in college, and was academically successful, and died by suicide just weeks before Sawyer started kindergarten. I was also seven months pregnant with Sawyer’s little brother, and our lives have been forever changed. Trauma informed decisions are top priority for us. So with all due respect, academic achievement does not equate with life success in our family and we will continue to prioritize mental health over attendance.

That said, this letter states, “attending classes on time gives your child daily exposure to classroom instruction for school success, as well as foster development of social skills and positive relationships with their peers and adults.”

Please tell me where Sawyer is suffering in these departments. Please provide me with an example of one student who hasn’t had a positive interaction with Sawyer. Please tell me what member of your staff has had a negative experience with Sawyer.

I spoke a few weeks ago with someone from Whitman and I didn’t catch her name but she informed me that Sawyer is well liked by his peers and teachers alike and that he is doing very well in school. I just got a letter a couple weeks ago that Sawyer has been invited to advanced placement math for next year.

And the other day with my 7 year old, at the park, a mother of a 7th grader told me she wanted me to know that her daughter told her that Sawyer is the “only nice boy in seventh grade.” She continued to say that most boys at Whitman make terrible jokes, act like bullies, and are rude, but that the only one who doesn’t fall in with that crowd mentality is Sawyer.

So again, I implore you to tell me where Sawyer isn’t fostering development of his social skills and positive relationships with his peers. To suggest this about Sawyer without proof is nothing more than a tactic of gaslighting propaganda on behalf of your administration.

Sawyer’s mental health will continue to be a priority, and I will do everything in my power to ensure he understands his value extends beyond his academic success. He will also continue to be a good peer and student, because he will be showing up to school mentally healthy. Do you understand the correlation?

You have children at your school making racist jokes, jokes about pedophilia, comments that are homophobic, sexist, and plain cruel, but you want me to believe Sawyer’s attendance will have a negative impact on his interpersonal development skills?

Sawyer often comes home feeling guilty for not standing up more in the face of bigotry and bullying at Whitman out of fear that he will become a target. The culture at Whitman is a big reason WHY Sawyer needs to take mental health days and mornings away from school. Being immersed in an environment where Sawyer doesn’t always feel safe is exactly the reason why he doesn’t make it to school on time everyday.

Ms. Derrig, as an “attendance specialist,” are you reading this? The call is coming from inside the house.

Your administration should look at the culture of Whitman, and address the bigotry and toxicity rampant within the classrooms, and perhaps kids like Sawyer wouldn’t feel they need as many mental health days. Either way, Sawyer will be fostering his mental health in a way we feel is safest for him.

I’m happy to have an in person meeting regarding Sawyer’s absences. They will continue to take place as he needs them for his mental and physical health.

Cassie Daughtrey

The attendance specialist’s letter, a form letter:

Dear Parent/Guardian,

Your child has been tardy to school an excessive number of school days this school year. It is important for students to be on time to class every day. Attending classes on time gives your child daily exposure to classroom instruction for school success, as well as foster development of social skills and positive relationships with their peers and adults in our school.

If there are issues that make it difficult to get your child to school on time, please let us know so that we can work with you on a solution. We want to support you and your child as much as possible to ensure your child’s success in school. If your child continues to miss school we are required to take steps (including court action) to address the issue.

Title: Attendance specialist

School: Whitman Middle School

Cassie Daughtrey is a Realtor who lives in Seattle's Loyal Heights neighborhood. She shared her response to the attendance specialist's letter on Instagram and agreed to let KUOW publish it.

Seattle Story Project features first-person essays from the Seattle area. If you would like to submit an essay for consideration, please email

Why you can trust KUOW