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It all started the day before the last day of school. The parents in my daughter’s ASD class received an email from the teacher that the three special education classes in the school (2 ASD, 1 multiple impairment) were printed incorrectly. Basically, the pages were printed with their special education certification listed. So, on the page with my little girl’s name and photos, as well as the names and photos of the other students in her class, the word Autism was printed. Of course, this represents a violation of the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA), as well as HIPAA. The school’s initial response was to create a sticker to be placed over the label describing the disability and to distribute the yearbooks. Upon learning this, we told the principal that this was not an acceptable solution. Rather, we suggested that the books be reprinted correctly, with the special education students included in the general education class photo pages, per protocol. The response: “too late to reprint.”

The following day, my daughter exited the school bus for the last time as a third grader and excitedly rifled through her bag for the yearbook. Do your kids read and re-read yearbooks all the time, too?! However, her photo was nowhere to be found. The school’s solution turned out to be to remove all pages representing the students of the three special education classes in the school. That’s right, the special education classes were completely removed from the yearbook.


Now, some of the special education students were included in their general education class pages (as they should be), but not all. Those that were not are nowhere to be found in the yearbook. We immediately wrote to the principal and the school district’s superintendent. While the principal responded, apologizing for the “unfortunate situation,” and that she could understand my frustration, she made no move or suggestion to rectify the “unfortunate situation.”

I took deep breaths. My little girl and her peers were disrespected and sent a message that they do not count, do not belong, are not equal students in the school. I swallowed the lump in my throat. That was hard. I called the principal. I expressed my opinion that the only acceptable solution is to reprint, redistribute, and use this opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of inclusion and acceptance of all students. I truly believe there’s a way to turn this into a positive message. This can be a teachable moment! Show the students, parents, staff, administration, PTA, and community at large that ALL students have a place at this elementary and in our communities.


The following day- 24 hours after school let out for summer and all the school’s children were home with their yearbooks- the principal sent an email to the parents. It said the school appreciates that {the yearbook printing company} will be “reprinting the yearbook since there was an unfortunate error in the version that was distributed. Regretfully, some students were excluded from the yearbook and we have noted other errors that will be corrected as well.” That’s it. No mention of what really happened and the fact that it is unacceptable to remove any student from the yearbook, regardless of ability, race, gender, etc. No mention of the importance of including all students, always. She did thank us for our understanding. But, I still don’t understand. I don’t understand how it was ever perceived an acceptable move to remove special education students and their very hardworking teachers from the yearbook. I don’t understand how that decision came from the people who are meant to be committed to educating and nurturing children. All children. I don’t understand how I can trust these people to do right by my child and her peers.

The first error seems like a simple, ignorant mistake by the layperson who was working on the yearbook. Strange that there was not professional oversight or protocols in place and followed for editing, but still, an innocent, uneducated mistake. The second mistake, however, is the one that makes all the difference in the world to me and to other parents like me. The choice that was made by the school administration to pull the three special education classes completely removing some students from the yearbook is reprehensible and inexcusable. It was a choice. Period.

This kind of thing is happening every day. Even to tough, outspoken advocate families like mine. We parents feel like we are alone in a fight like this. Whether you have a child with a disability or not, you know this isn’t right. I want to see the general education teachers fight, the PTA, my kid’s typically developing peers and their parents; I need them all fighting by my side for kids like mine. I can’t do this alone.

So what are our options here? Do we sit back and feel grateful that they’ll reprint the yearbook? Do we hope this will never happen again? It’s been suggested that we file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Filing such a complaint would threaten legal action should this happen again, which essentially forces the school or district to implement a system or protocol to be put in place and followed in the future. Have you ever filed a complaint with the Office for Civil Rights? What would you do?

A new yearbook will be issued. However, the damage has been done. A yearbook was distributed omitting special education students and their teachers. A message has been sent to those students, their parents, and their typically developing peers in general education. I feel disappointed the administration opted not to take advantage of the opportunity to reverse that message, which could have been a beautiful basis for an anti-bullying campaign. That’s how we feel. Bullied. Disrespected. Like my daughter doesn’t exist. Because in the yearbook that sits in the homes of all the student body, she doesn’t.



Dani Gillman is Cofounder and Head of Marketing at Birdhouse– a Detroit-based startup empowering parents raising children with special needs to learn more about their children through a behavior journaling app for iPhone, Android and the web. She’s also mom to a 10 year old daughter (who happens to have Autism) and a 1 year old son (who has yet to appreciate the value of naps).


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