‘Today my little sister received her school yearbook. She was intentionally left out due to her differences in ability.’: Sister to student with Down syndrome advocates for inclusion, ‘There is no excuse’

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“Today, my little sister received her high school yearbook from Watchung Hills Regional High School and was not listed as a student. She didn’t miss picture day or ask for her picture not to be included, she was intentionally left out, as were the remainder of the special education students.

While the faculty and staff who teach her and her classmates every day were acknowledged, Glenda was not. Everyone in the special education department was acknowledged except the students. She was not given the same thought and respect other students immediately received. There wasn’t even the mention of her name in the index.

Imagine the heartbreak my mother felt having to explain to my sister why she wasn’t in the yearbook. And Glenda not being able to understand how she was seen as different than her general-education classmates.

My mother did not sign anything refusing for Glenda to be represented in the yearbook, she actually signed a media release for the school to share photos of her as a student. But this wasn’t a privacy issue, because the parents were not consulted about this decision before the books were printed.

It is inexcusable that Watchung Hills printed a yearbook that specifically excludes the special needs students without any thought. How can a school that praises itself for being upstanding and inclusive defend their blatant discrimination towards a marginalized group of students?

There is no excuse. This action violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which are both federal rulings that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. And as if that weren’t enough, by strategically leaving out students with special needs, Watchung Hills is cherry-picking the image they want to portray to the world.

Individuals with special needs often cannot advocate for themselves, and subsequently, get overlooked. I am speaking out for Glenda and every other student who was cast aside merely due to differences in ability. Silence is compliance.

And finally, since the 2,500+ students and faculty didn’t get the honor of seeing Glenda’s yearbook photo, at least the internet can.

Courtesy of Amanda Occhipinti

Update: My parents have heard back from the school saying they are going send out a supplemental yearbook that is inclusive of all the students as well as consult with the yearbook committee to ensure that all students will be represented going forward.

Please continue to advocate for those without a voice, it really makes a difference. It’s amazing what can be accomplished with advocacy and a flood of support.”

Courtesy of Amana Occhipinti

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Amanda Occhipinti. You can follow their journey on Facebook. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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