Pleasant Valley Junior High parent Megan Ramirez thinks about when to pick her battles. When her daughter Madi, 13, was cast aside at a Pleasant Valley choir concert, it was time.
“The choir concert was a battle I was willing to pit, and I wasn’t willing to move from,” Ramirez said.
Madi is a seventh grader and member of the choir at Pleasant Valley Junior High. She also uses a wheelchair. At her choir concert Monday, the stage did not have a ramp that allowed her to be with her classmates who were on risers. Instead, she was seated near the piano on the gym floor.
“My husband looked at the stage and asked ‘how are they going to get her up there?’” Ramirez said. “My stomach dropped. I just knew in my heart that there wasn’t a plan.”
Pleasant Valley superintendent Jim Spelhaug said the stage is rarely used by the district, and as a result, the ramp was missing.
“We clearly made a mistake, that’s obvious,” he said. “ … This young lady was put in a situation she shouldn’t have been put in. It’s spilled milk, and we can’t unspill it. But we’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Madi had arrived with a caretaker before her parents; there had been a rehearsal beforehand, she said.
“I felt sad because I wasn’t on the stage with my friends,” Madi Ramirez said.
“I was shocked that she was up there by herself,” Ramirez said. “I didn’t even stay to watch the song. … I couldn’t handle it.”
After leaving in tears, Megan Ramirez said two principals came out to talk to her, followed by assistant superintendent Brian Strusz, who will take over as superintendent in July, when Spelhaug retires.
“They apologized right on the spot,” Ramirez said, adding the music teacher has also apologized.
“People have criticized me, asking why I didn’t go and put her up on stage,” Ramirez said. “I thought that would have been more embarrassing for her."
Just a few songs later, another student, Gabby Lodico, 14, was put in the same position because of her wheelchair.
“Since Gabby’s been at Pleasant Valley, her teachers and the school have been super helpful and they’ve bent over backwards,” said Gabby’s mom, Heather Crouch. “She’s never really had a situation where she’s felt left out. I just wanted it to be said that it was probably just an oversight.”
Crouch said her daughter “really does love her choir teacher,” and that when the group performs in the auditorium, there is a ramp so she can be with her classmates.
“She said that she didn’t really sing; she just mouthed the words because she felt like she was singing a solo,” Crouch said. “She wanted to be up by the choir so she could hear the choir.”
Ramirez said after this experience, she is working with Madi to encourage her to speak up for herself.
“I told her, you have a right to ask,” she said. “ …You shouldn’t have to ask to be included.”
Ramirez said there have been other problems with accessibility in the district, such as the lack of a playground surface Madi's wheelchair can roll over. But there are teachers who have helped Madi have a good school experience, including an adaptive PE class, that allows her to be in a general education gym class.
“I give high accolades to that PE class,” Ramirez said. “It’s her favorite part of the day.”
While recognizing the district’s “stumble” in this situation, Spelhaug said he is generally “extremely proud” of what his team does for the district’s students.
“I wish in this intensely human enterprise we could avoid mistakes, but we do make them, and we fix them and own it,” he said. “What does happen on a daily basis is really excellent and we work really hard to provide opportunities. Every kid deserves that.”