Leslee Bailey was shocked to see that her 21-year-old daughter Amber, a student with Down syndrome, was excluded from the high school yearbook. Bailey says this is the first year that Amber, along with other students in the special needs transition program, was singled out.
Amber is a student at the Community Learning Center, located in the same building as Blue Peak High School of Tooele County, Utah. For the past two years, the high school has included the 17 students with special needs in the program as part of the yearbook. This year, Bailey was told by the school principal when asked why her child was left out, “We don’t have the pages.”
However, Mat Jackson, director of special education for Tooele County, adds, “They don’t participate in classes with those Blue Peak High School kids.”
Jackson goes on to explain that, in the past, Blue Peak students have helped to tutor transitional students with special needs. Jackson said the students did not work together this year — mainly because the transitional program is designed to help students with special needs move forward from high school. Therefore, students with special needs should not be included in high school activities, like the yearbook, according to Jackson.
Amber’s mom doesn’t see it that way, especially since the change came so suddenly. The exclusion was hard to miss. Bailey told Fox 8 News, “It doesn’t just matter because I love her and I want the best for her. But it bothers me because it seems they’ve gone back in time to where we’re not including them. And we are going to tuck them away and say, ‘No, they don’t exist.'”
This mom is not wrong. If it were my child in this situation, it would bother me deeply too. I think Bailey hits the nail on the head when she asks that the school just acknowledge that her child exists. Even if the school had a good reason to change their yearbook policy regarding the transitional program, there were about a hundred better ways this could have been handled — with much greater respect for the students with special needs who were being excluded.
The school could have called a meeting. The school could have sent out flyers. Given that there were only 17 students in the program, the school could have called each and every parent directly to explain the change, allowing each parent to break the news to their own child. It’s easy to change policy on a whim because it’s more efficient. It’s harder to reach out and remember that, yes, these students with special needs do exist.