Holmdel grad couldn’t cross stage in wheelchair, family says
HOLMDEL — The sister of a graduate who uses a wheelchair to get around posted video on her Facebook page of the girl being denied the chance to go on stage during commencement.
The video posted by Blake Portmann of Holmdel High School's graduation ceremony on Tuesday at Brookdale Communtity College opens with Lili Portmann positioning herself at the bottom of a ramp to the stage. As her name is called out to cheers and applause to begin the ceremony, a woman appears to direct Lili onto the ramp, but she doesn't move.
A person dressed in a cap and gown comes down the ramp and quickly speaks to Lili before heading back up the ramp. Lilli then wheels herself away without taking the stage as the video ends.
Blake said that her sister successfully went across the stage during a rehearsal the day before.
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"Lili was denied the right to ride up the ramp and across the stage to receive her diploma. The superintendent who shook every other students hand merely stood there and watched," Blake Portmann wrote in a post titled "Empathy is dead at Holmdel High School."
Her mother, Tracy Welch, posted the email she wrote to Holmdel superintendent Robert McGarry after the incident to her own Facebook page. She called out McGarry for not coming to Lilli to shake her hand.
"My family, who came from far and wide, are dumbfounded by the lack of empathy. There is zero consideration and acknowledgement on your part and the administration’s for people who are different, are special, and may require a little additional help," Welch wrote.
Blake told the Asbury Park Press that despite having spinal muscular atrophy type 3 Lili rides horses and has no problems getting around on her motorized wheelchair.
According to an email obtained by the newspaper, McGarry said a lack of communication and sufficient planing led to a "significant mistake."
McGarry, Welch and Blake Portmann have not yet responded to messages seeking comment.