Friday, May 20, 2016

Webster Schools un-stage graduations

In response to a mother’s request for a ramp, school officials remove stages

When Abby Baskett began to prepare for her middle school graduation this year, she told her mother she wanted to go across the stage with her classmates.

So her mother, Sarah Humphrey, approached the school about the possibility.
Abby is one of two students in the middle school class of 2016 who is confined to a wheelchair. She has been a part of the class from day one, and Humphrey said her daughter wanted to graduate the same way as her friends.

But according to Humphrey, what started as a simple request turned into a mess.

“I never asked for special treatment,” Humphrey said. “I wanted inclusion, not an exception.”

According to Humphrey, during a visit to the middle school earlier this year, she addressed her daughter’s desire with school principal Cyndi Boggs.

Humphrey said she was told to make sure that was exactly what Abby wanted. If it was, then the school would make it happen, Humphrey recalled.

Not long after that conversation, Humphrey said Abby sent Boggs an email expressing her wishes. 
Additionally, the two discussed it in the hallway at school a few days later.

So Humphrey believed a ramp would be brought in to accommodate Abby and her classmate.
“We found out Wednesday evening there was no ramp,” Humprey said.

Unhappy with a situation she believed settled, Humphrey posted her frustration to her friends on Facebook that evening. 

“Mrs. Boggs called me about 9:00 that night,” said Humphrey.

Humphrey said Boggs did not recall the earlier conversation about Abby’s desire to cross the stage.
Boggs said she wasn’t sure accommodations could be made before graduation, but would check, said Humphrey.

The middle school awards day was held the next morning, and Humphrey drove her daughter to school and planned to return for the presentations.

But when she dropped Abby off, an aide who came to assist Abby informed Humphrey that Boggs wanted to meet with her in the high school gymnasium.

According to Humphrey, when she arrived in the gym, she was met by Boggs and district Superintendent Dr. Rachel Yarbrough.

“Dr. Yarbrough said there absolutely would be no ramp,” Humphrey said. “They had their minds made up before they even met with me. Dr. Yarbrough told me that I was focused on a negative instead of celebrating Abby.”

According to Humphrey, the two children in wheelchairs were on opposite ends of the front row. She said a solution that the district proposed was that the first row remain on the floor to receive their diplomas, and the rest of the students would cross the stage.
Humphrey refused.

The Americans With Disabilities Act, a federal law enacted in 1990, states that public services, including schools, “cannot deny services to people with disabilities or deny participation in programs or activities that are available to people without disabilities.”

In the case of graduation, however one student receives a diploma is the same way all of them must. If students ascend a stage, are handed a diploma, then descend to the floor, then no student may be made to do otherwise.

That has not been the case for Webster County graduations in the past. When faced with the situation in the past, the wheelchair-bound students have remained on the floor to receive their diplomas while all others crossed the stage.

An almost identical situation occurred last year in Lincoln County, North Carolina. School officials there were concerned the ramp available was not sturdy enough. They presented the same solution to the parents in the case, but the family wanted their daughter to be able to cross the stage with her classmates. The school principal and a teacher volunteered the use of personal ramps.

In Webster County’s case, the district’s ultimate solution was to remove stages from all graduations in the county.

In a phone call on Friday, Boggs said she thought the district’s decision was sending a ‘positive message’ to all Webster County students and thought the issue had been settled prior to 8th Grade graduation. She referred all further questions to Yarbrough.

“We did not use the stage for eighth grade and high school graduations this year, and we will not be using one at other graduations in the future,” Yarbrough said. “All graduations will be held at ground level, eliminating any issue with kids being able to cross the stage.”

As to why the district would opt to eliminate the stage rather than adding a ramp, there was no answer. Officials feel their solution was the best and most positive one available.

“I was told it was never questioned before,” Humphrey said. “But it’s not the 1950s anymore. We don’t hide kids with disabilities way.”

Some voiced displeasure with the district’s decision to take the stages out of the middle and high school gyms. Humphrey said she never asked that it be done. 

“It was blown way out of proportion,” she said. “No one had a problem when I couldn’t see my child.”

 at 270-667-2068

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