CLAREMONT — Miscommunication in the organizing of a farewell celebration for Maple Avenue fifth-grade students led to students from a special education program being left out of the event.
Parents of students in the Visions program, a self-contained elementary classroom for children with disabilities, said they were hurt and outraged Wednesday night when their children were mistakenly excluded from an event held to recognize fifth-graders departing to middle school in the fall.
“They didn’t even acknowledge our student was a fifth-grader,” said Erica Abbey, whose granddaughter Delilah attends Visions. “It was heartbreaking.”
Abbey, who moved Delilah from Disnard Elementary to Maple Avenue specifically for its specialized offerings, said her aim is not to garner sympathy for Delilah, nor to denigrate the school or community, but to raise general awareness when inclusion fails.
“We love our community and have received a lot of support,” Abbey said this week. “It’s more about being mindful. We just want people to be aware and to make others aware so that everyone gets included.”
Abbey, who has since spoken to school administrators and faculty, said she believes the incident was purely unintentional.
“In no way did I think this was meant to happen,” Abbey said. “It was just a horrible mistake.”
The celebration took place on the field outside Claremont Middle School. Families set blankets or folding chairs on the grass to watch the ceremony, which included an event where each fifth-grader simultaneously launched a small rocket they had made in preparation for the event.
Unfortunately, this rocket-making activity never reached the students in Visions.
“Why didn’t she have an opportunity to do the rocket?” Abbey questioned.
According to parents, the Visions children sat with their families while their classmates launched their rockets as a group.
The school’s special services coordinator attempted to alleviate the situation by inviting Delilah to launch a rocket with her after the other students, according to Abbey.
Another parent, in a social media post, stated the Visions teacher acquired some rockets and gave then to the Visions students, though the students would have to launch them at home.
After the rocket activity, each fifth-grader was called forward to receive a certificate and a handshake from a military service member.
But Delilah and other fifth-graders were not called, according to Abbey, nor were certificates made for them.
School and district administrators were apologetic on Thursday, attributing the incident to miscommunication when organizing the event.
“The rocket launch issue was a result of a miscommunication,” said Principal Kathleen Bunnell. “It should not have happened, nor should it ever happen again. We have reached out to the families to apologize and are working to ensure something like this does not happen again.”
Superintendent Michael Tempesta said the district has communicated with the parents of the Visions students about the unintended omission of the students.
“The event organizers at Maple and district realize that this unfortunate incident should have never happened and we are taking steps to ensure that all students are included in all aspects of future celebrations at Maple Avenue Elementary and throughout the Claremont Public Schools,” Tempesta said in a written statement.
The best response, Abbey said, is to focus on preventing future occurrences rather than attempt to make retroactive fixes. Though the school suggested holding a special ceremony for Delilah and the other students, Abbey said that would only make Delilah stand apart and would be unfair to the other fifth-graders.
“Invite me to next year’s celebration to see the change, and then I’ll be happy,” Abbey said.
The incident received further attention on Thursday through social media posts, including one by the regionally based musical group Recycled Percussion.
Abbey said she hopes this incident will make people more conscious, in both education and the world beyond, toward ensuring every individual is feeling included and a part, particularly those like Delilah who may not make their feelings as overt.
“We just want her to grow up in the world like everyone else,” Abbey said, adding that the best support for Delilah is to be sure such an oversight does not happen again, not gifts the fifth-grader would not understand.