I've always got my advocacy antenna up for special needs stories that spark outrage and generate hot comments that quickly take over social media. I've got a doozey today.
I'm still shaking my head over what happened to Alex Pollard, a student from Georgia. The young choir member, who has special needs and uses a wheelchair, was left alone off one side of a stage, separated from his fellow choir members during a recent school performance (see video link below). No one stepped up to fix it the obvious snafu. How this happened is now the subject of much-heated debate.
The story breaks my heart. But I'm not surprised it happened.
I experienced this kind of inexcusable exclusion with my own son during his short life. But we must remember that including children with special needs is still a new, unfamiliar concept (surprise) to far too many people. To make things better for all kids/families with special needs, we must be teachers whenever we can, proactive vs reactive. This is one of those critical teachable moments.
I believe we should all take a deep breath and not crucify anyone involved in this travesty, including the choir teacher, especially since all the facts are still not clear. Not that I think there's a good excuse. But in our passionate support of and love for our children and others with special needs, it's easy to get caught up in volatile emotions and want to call for someone's head. We forget that successfully including children with special needs in our schools and elsewhere is still difficult, uncomfortable and dicey terrain to many, and sometimes people screw up.
That's the ugly reality. Now, how can we change it?
We should recognize this terrible event for what it is, a hearbreaking occurrence that should never have happened, and accept that many people failed this young man in this moment. But now that it's occurred, we've been provided a valuable teachable moment in which we can and should focus on educating everyone involved about what went wrong. Then, work to ensure it doesn't happen again. That is especially important since rumor has it The Today Show may already be on the story. National exposure is good for critical awareness. It's okay to be angry, but let's use that anger and outrage to create positive change.
Schooling the misguided choir teacher is an important part of that necessary change.
Let's not promote or support pity or floggings or fuel stereotypes. Instead, let's hold people accountable and speak loudly and respectfully to help educate and ensure this doesn't happen again, while understanding that it probably will, somehow, somewhere. And know, that as those who care deeply for all those with special needs, we will again need to step up and educate others to help preserve the rights and dignity of this population, and correct inexcusable wrongs. This is an on-going human rights struggle that requires our continued advocacy. It's hard work with no simple solutions. This story presents a valuable, teachable moment. Let's treat it as such.
And let's make sure Alex receives the apology he deserves.
This is not Glee; this is real life.
All that said, how tough would it have been to simply move the choir down to the right of the stage?
Watch/read it Disabled Student Sidelined During Choir Performance here.
Jenna Winter Photo