Just this week the story emerged of a 5th grade student in the Houston, Texas area who was completely overlooked when the certificates where handed out for their promotion ceremony. Using a wheelchair for mobility, this young lady sat heartbroken while everyone's name was called but hers.
The really pathetic part to this story is the fact that when her parents brought it to the school's attention at the ceremony, it became obvious that they had in no way prepared for this child to access the stage to receive her certificate. There was no ramp to help her climb the stage.
While the school district apologized and assured this would never happen again, it seems too little too late. This ceremony only happens once for each student, and this day cannot be remade.
In addition to this terrible oversight, more students were alienated by being eliminated from the Blue Peak High School yearbook in Tooele County, Utah this year. A few weeks ago, this story went viral as it was revealed that a girl with Down Syndrome and 16 of her fellow classmates were left out.
As in the Texas situation, a mother of a student was the one who brought this situation to the fore. If you ever doubted that you, the parent, are the best advocate for your child, these stories should erase all of that insecurity.
Taking this advocacy theme one step further, I want to suggest some positive steps to help reframe these terrible stories. Since we now have an awareness that these sorts of things can possibly happen, I urge you fellow-parents to talk to your child's school well in advance of the end of the school year. If there is an issue that is important to you, it is important enough to discuss with the administration. Assume nothing. Make certain everything is in place for your child to make award season, transitions, and graduation the joyful events you would like them to be. If you don't like the answers you are getting from staff, work your way up the food chain to the superintendent, school board, or even a special education advocate.
Every child matters, and you are the one paying the salary of those who are educating your child, regardless of whether it is public or private school. It is past time to eliminate the marginalization of our children, which is only magnified by these grim situations at the end of the school year.
~ Barb Dittrich
UPDATE: No sooner did we publish this story and yet another one came about a different school overlooking special needs students: Special Needs Students Left Out of Midland Middle School Yearbook. May this never be! Parents, let's work to put a stop to this sort of thing.