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Va. Beach woman who advocates for children with disabilities is Navy Spouse of the Year

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By Kayla Gaskins, WAVY News

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — They say the spouses of our service members have the hardest jobs in the military, keeping families together at home while their loved ones are in harm’s way, sometimes on the other side of the world.

This year’s Armed Forces Insurance Navy Spouse of the Year is from Virginia Beach. The honor went to Michelle Norman, wife of captain Cassidy Norman who just deployed as the new commanding officer for the USS Mount Whitney.

Next week, Michelle heads to Washington D.C. with the national winners for the other branches to compete for Armed Forces Insurance Military Spouse of the Year. 

Michelle first won Spouse of the Year for Naval Station Norfolk, the largest Naval base in the world. Then, after a series of interviews and votes, she earned the title for the entire Navy

A big part of her title is advocating for her platform, education for special needs children in military families. It’s something her family deals with every day. Her daughter Marisa has more than 20 disabilities. 

“With this military lifestyle, moving every two to three years, it definitely is difficult to keep that consistency up when you move from school to school and district to district and state to state,” said Michelle. “And I know that with children that have special needs that challenge is exponentially more difficult.”

The Normans are still dealing with a four-year legal battle with the Virginia Beach School District over Marisa’s education. Michelle says there’s a trend of special needs children from military families not receiving the education they’re legally entitled to. 

“That’s troubling in many ways because we’re not in an area very long to really fight the system,” Michelle explained. “So what happens is you’ll see some school districts kind of wait us out, knowing that eventually we’re going to move again and they don’t have to provide the support, the services that they should.”

Michelle says she’s grateful for the title because it gives her a seat at the table to meet with those who have the power to change the system. She’s already got a plan with where to start while she’s in Washington next week. 

“I’ll be meeting on the hill with different legislatures, staffers from Congressman Bobby Scott’s office, Congresswoman Luria’s office, Senator Warner’s office. Those are folks not only from our district, but they’re also on the House Armed Services Committee as well, so we can do some talking about educational policy.”

We’ve been covering the Normans’ legal battle with the Virginia Beach school system. The Normans say the system failed Marisa, so they moved her to a private school. The school district recently sued the Normans to get Marisa back in public school. 

Look for a special report on the outcome of the latest due process hearing on May 13. 

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