Friday, April 6, 2012

Disabled Student Left on Outskirts at Concert

{CORRECTION - Since Alex's last name was not published in his mother's writings or the interview referred to, I wrongly assumed they shared a last name. His correct full name is Alex Pollard - I've changed it in the post throughout. My apologies for the misinformation. I will write an email to the administrators below explaining my confusion and correcting the need to do it yourself if you've already written in. 4/6/12 9:48pm EST}

I'm beside myself.

I grew up singing and playing the French horn and trombone (hot). Being in choir gave me scads of confidence and joy. Band taught me how to read music and let me literally blow off steam. These were two things in the insanity of middle school that were a constant source of fun and relaxation. Not only is music important in brain development (as encapsulated in this review of Musicophilia by Oliver Sacks on Save The Artist) it is a limitless landscape for the heart and mind...especially those who might be limited in other ways.

 From grade school through high school in Montana my teachers Jackie Perry, MJ Linne, Dean Peterson, Carl Smart, and John Combs were all remarkably patient (okay, they were saints, cmon, kids making music?!) and nurturing with totally appropriate balances of discipline and allowing us to be, well, kids.

Being a musician growing up was a major factor in choosing to pursue a career in the arts and, more importantly, why I am a confident, creative, grounded person today. 

A friend of mine on Facebook shared the photo below, originally posted by Mom-troversial on Wednesday, April 4th. It shows young Alex Pollard, a sixth grader at Cooper Middle School in Austell, GA , being sidelined during the singing of two songs at a choir concert.

His mother, Arla Jan Wilson, wrote: "As Mr. [Grevstad] directed the children into position, Alex waited patiently on the sideline to be positioned with the rest of the group. All of this took about five minutes. As the chorus began to sing I realized that Alex would not be placed with the others. The picture that you see was taken after the first song was over and the second began, I assure you Alex was in that location the entire time his class performed." Ms. Wilson has started a page dedicated to this issue where she has explained the situation in detail. And Duffie Dixon, the reporter from Cobb County's NBC 11, did a wonderful report here.

That a child would be excluded in ANY way from a middle school choir experience (c’mon, we all had that tone deaf kid sitting behind us singing The Rainbow Connection with all his heart, and he had every right to be there!) but especially because he does not fit the physical ‘norm’ of the others in the group is reprehensible. One of my high school classmates was in a wheelchair and was in choir with me for, I believe, all four years. He was never treated like this.

It is clear from the TV story and Ms. Wilson's writing that this choir director is being negligent or even actively exclusionary. Not only is he denying responsibility and saying that a student aide should have brought him over, Ms. Wilson writes that "for the previous concert (which was also to be graded), the children lined up on the risers as normal and Alex was positioned out of sight behind the piano accompanist." [emphasis mine]

Cooper Middle Schools Mission, Vision, and Beliefs statement purports "to promote respect, foster individual responsibility, inspire academic, artistic and physical excellence, encourage creativity and resourcefulness, and enhance self-esteem." This treatment does not seem to be in line with any of that. Alex dutifully sang along from the edge of the risers in both songs.

It's time to write some emails, y'all. This is the county in Georgia that my amazing mother was raised in. I'm about to go Southern Belle on their asses (as only my mother could have taught me!).

You could write a letter, but I'm going to suggest you move a little faster and write an email to these people:

Principal Dr. Vanessa C. Watkins:
Deputy Superintendent of Leadership and Learning, Alice Stouder,
Area Assistant Superintendent, Dr. Angela Huff,
Director of Special Education, Susan Christensen, 

Please be respectful in your communications. If you need a template to start with (or just plain copy), see the below.

Dear Dr. Watkins, Ms. Stouder, Dr. Huff, and Ms. Christensen -

I write you today to express my concern for the treatment of Alex Pollard at a recent choir concert where he was stranded at the side of the risers as his classmates were in the center. For Lars Grevstad not to place Alex with the rest of the choir and then to blame it on "a student aide" who was to be responsible for helping Alex is unacceptable.  There are numerous solutions to this hurtful and damaging situation which instantly occur: moving the choir to one side of the risers or taking a moment to help Alex to the center, for example.

This event and the fact that Alex has been placed behind the piano, according to his mother's reports, for two other concerts, make it clear the Mr. Grevstad is unfit to be an educator.  I urge you to to reconsider his position or take serious, disciplinary action; a letter of reprimand and/or sensitivity training is not a strong enough reaction to this situation. The example he has set for the audience, the other children in the choir, and your school is one of prejudice, negligence, and insensitivity. 

Thank you for your immediate attention to this matter.

[Sign your name here]