TOOELE COUNTY, Utah — There’s a yearbook to mark every year 21-year-old Amber Bailey has been in the classroom in Tooele County. But this year, the special needs student is missing from her copy.
“It’s kind of like they singled out the students who were in the transition program and said, ‘We don’t want you in our yearbook,’” said Amber’s mother, Leslee Bailey.
She was shocked to see her daughter’s picture missing from the Blue Peak High School yearbook this spring. Bailey, who has Down syndrome, attends classes at the county’s Community Learning Center, which is housed in the same building as the high school.
For the last two years, the school has always included the 17 special needs students from the center in the yearbook. However, this year, a change was made.
“They’ve been to school with these kids,” Leslee Bailery said. “They’ve walked the halls with them. How would you feel if it was your child? You know, your child was left out because, as the principal told me, ‘We don’t have the pages.”
According to the Tooele County School District, that wasn’t the reason for the change.
“They don’t participate in classes with those Blue Peak High School kids,” said Mat Jackson, director of special education for Tooele County.
In the past, Blue Peak students have helped with tutoring the students in the transitional program. But this year, Jackson said the students did not work together. Furthermore, they felt because the transitional program is intended to help special needs students move on from high school, the students should not be involved in high school activities–such as yearbook.
“The expectation is different,” Jackson said. “The environment is different. So, that prompted, that was part of the change as well.”
But for Bailey, the move highlighted other differences between her daughter and the student body.
“It doesn’t just matter because I love her and I want the best for her,” she said. “But it bothers me because it seems they’ve gone back in time to where we’re not including them. And we are going to tuck them away and say, ‘No, they don’t exist.'”