Pleasant Valley School District’s Superintendent has apologized after a student was kept off stage because of her wheelchair Monday night.
In a Local 4 News exclusive, the girl’s parents shared their story in hopes of raising awareness.
It happened during a district-wide choir concert at Pleasant Valley High School.
Megan Ramirez turned to Facebook after the show posting two photos side by side. One photo shows a group of junior high students on stage during the performance. The second photo is a wider shot, showing her 13-year-old daughter Madi, left off stage and sitting alone on the side.
Ramirez says she and her husband arrived right before the show was starting, and realized Madi wasn’t on stage.
“My husband looked at me and said ‘how is she getting up there?'” said Ramirez. “I guess I had faith in the school district that they had a way to get her up there or have students stand with her.”
But that wasn’t the case. Superintendent Jim Spelhaug tells Local 4 News he learned after the incident that they could not find the ramp for that stage ahead of Monday night’s performance.
“When the time came my stomach dropped and I was sick and I actually got up and left the concert,” said Ramirez.
She says she left in tears, calling what happened to her daughter ‘horrific.’
“I asked Madi how she felt and she told me she was sad and wanted to be up there with her friends.”
Now, they’re sharing their story in hopes of preventing anyone else from feeling that same pain.
“Number one is to raise awareness,” said Ramirez. “To speak up for people with disabilities, especially people who can’t speak up for themselves.”
Ramirez says they were not contacted by the school about this issue before the performance, and wishes they would have contacted her when they realized there was a problem during the rehearsal earlier that day.
“The thought that she wasn’t important enough to think about her feelings, there were multiple adults involved in planning this choir concert,” said Ramirez. “We know it wasn’t done on purpose but it doesn’t make it any less hurtful.”
But Ramirez says they don’t just want answers, but action.
“We are her best advocates so we always have to stand up for her and do what’s right for her even if it creates waves.” she said. “They’re amazing people and there’s no reason why they shouldn’t be included.”
Superintendent Spelhaug apologized, vowing to do better in the future.
“We hurt a student and their family and that’s unacceptable,” said Spelhaug. “But unfortunately we can’t go back and change that. All we can do is how we move forward, and we will move forward in a manner where this, to the best of our ability, doesn’t happen again.”
But Ramirez says the damage is done and it shouldn’t have gone this far. She added that a second student was also left off stage because of her wheelchair during that show.
“Her mom couldn’t even get a picture because she couldn’t see her.”
“It needs to be inclusive and it needs to be done before there’s no going back and erasing the situation that happened,” she added.
She says the incident at the choir concert is only a piece of a much bigger problem.
“I’d love for that picture to circulate around the entire country to ensure this never happens to another kid, not just at a choir concert.”
Which is why the Ramirez family wants their voiced to be heard.
Ramirez says the Pleasant Valley School District has been very supportive of her daughter in the past, which is why she was so surprised by Monday’s incident. She gave high praise to her daughter’s aide at school, who was out of town at the time of the incident.
But Ramirez says it shouldn’t be the responsibility of just one aide, saying everyone needs to be aware.
“Take a look at your cafeteria, take a look at your gym, take a look at your performances before they happen and say ‘Is this for every kid? Will every kid be able to be successful in this environment?’ And that’s what I want.”
Now they hope with the help of their story, when it comes to equality the world will finally get the picture.
“You know people aren’t disabled. It’s our environment that’s disabled. Our environment is not allowing for them to be included,” she said.
Superintendent Spelhaug says they plan to create a permanent solution to the staging issue.