Parents ask school to remove photo of girl with Down syndrome from yearbook

Oct 28, 2015 at 1:02 p.m. ET
Image: Kristian Sekulic/Getty Images

A pack of rabid jerks with children in a Moscow school decided that a picture of a girl with Down syndrome ruined the overall look of a yearbook, so they did what any unreasonable people would do: pressured the school to edit her out.

Masha, the 7-year-old who so offended these parents, doesn't even attend the school that has bent to pressure and erased her from the photos of the classroom she sits in. Instead, her mother, Olga Sinayeva, teaches fourth grade there. A single mother, Sinayeva needs to take Masha to work with her, so the girl sits in the class while her mom teaches, but just until next year, when Masha will begin her own schooling.

That's why when the school yearbooks were sent home, Masha was pictured in photos alongside Sinayeva's fourth-graders. Well, the ones who were left, anyway. Sinayeva said on her Facebook page that at least five children transferred out of her class immediately once their parents realized Masha would be there.

It's hard to imagine that people could get any more heartless than that, but the parents soon outdid themselves anyway, insisting to the school that the photos of the girl "ruined" the album and that they edit her out. The school acquiesced, asking for the yearbooks back, which Sinayeva describes on her Facebook page as "so very pompously glossy, with all kinds of poetry about school, friendship and mutual understanding, with pages separated by parchment paper."

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This is so ugly it's hard to bear. It's true that Russia isn't exactly known for its delicate handling of human rights issues, but anytime the target is a child, there is an added element of awfulness. Individuals with Down syndrome deserve the same amount of basic dignity that we give anyone else, not scorn and ridicule. What's more is that Sinayeva fears that when Masha does finally start school, she won't fare much better. Another mother on Sinayeva's Facebook page claims that when her own child with Down syndrome started school, parents pulled kids from that class too.

Besides outraging scores of people worldwide, Masha's story also caught the attention of Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova, who was outraged to hear how shabbily the parents and the school were treating the 7-year-old. She posted a photo of herself posing with her sister, Oksana — who has autism and cerebral palsy — imploring others to do the same using the hashtag #OurMasha. Just this summer, Oksana was kicked out of a café because the manager claimed she was "scaring" the customers.

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Much of the deplorable attitude surrounding individuals with disabilities springs from simple ignorance, though that's not a good excuse for it. The cure for that ignorance isn't erasing the people we don't understand; it's acknowledging that we have more to learn and inviting those individuals to share our lives and spaces with us. It's encouraging to see people with influence, like Vodianova, taking the lead on that front. Maybe people will see her hugging her sister, unashamed and happily, and see that every disabled individual is someone's sister, child or friend.

More: Dad helps little boy with Down syndrome 'fly' in uplifting photo series

Every single child, whether they have Down syndrome or not, deserves the same opportunity to walk through the world without being accused of "ruining it." They deserve to go to school, to be photographed and to live their lives without being tormented or ridiculed or shied away from.

Masha can be edited out of a yearbook, but she can't be edited out of the world, so hopefully people will find a less disgusting way to deal with their own discomfort in regard to what they don't understand.

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