Making special-needs kids leave prom early a ‘mistake,’ NJ district says
HILLSBOROUGH — Township school officials have apologized two weeks after special -needs students and their guests were removed from their senior prom, calling the early dismissal an "unacceptable scenario" and "unfortunate mistake with heartbreaking ramifications.”
In a news release issued Monday, the Hillsborough Board of Education also said that while personnel matters cannot be discussed due to state confidentiality law, “the Board wishes to make it clear that the administration is taking steps to ensure that this type of error will not happen again.”
Parents of the students said they still have not gotten "transparency" or accountability, following what they said was the students' "forced ejection" from Hillsborough High School Senior Prom nearly an hour early.
The district said some parents had asked that their children leave the prom earlier but staff may have misinterpreted that to mean that all special-needs students had to leave before the end of the event at 11:30 p.m.
The special-needs students were made to leave at 10:45 p.m. so that they would avoid the rush caused by other students who may have wanted to leave early at 11 p.m. This caused the special-needs students to miss the coronation of the prom king and queen, district officials acknowledged.
Katherine Trusky, representing the group of 12 parents, spoke with New Jersey 101.5 hosts Jeff Deminski and Bill Doyle Monday afternoon. Schools Superintendent Jorden Schiff declined an invitation to speak on air during the same segment.
"As families, we do everything in our power to give our students as inclusive and typical of an experience as we possibly can," Trusky said.
She said these students do not have physical disabilities but some were even taken off the dance floor to be forced to leave early on the night of May 17 at the East Brunswick Hilton Hotel.
Administrators have apologized in person to the students and parents involved, the school's statement said, while also adding the high school principal sent a letter last week that "reiterated this apology and the school’s staunch belief that their children deserved better, as well as offered a special activity to those students to remind them that they are valued members of the school family."
Trusky said none of the apologies they've heard are meaningful, none of it shows transparency or accountability, which is what parents have been asking for since the prom. She said they're still not getting it.
The general timeline of events as the parents outlined last month was confirmed in the school district's statement about its post-prom investigation, though Trusky said she was not aware of any special-needs parents requesting an early dismissal for their kids from the event.
For the prom, three paid adult aides were there to assist the students with disabilities, per district and state guidelines for special-needs students.
Trusky's daughter, Lily, has Down syndrome and was among nine developmentally disabled students who were joined by two friends who are not disabled, she said. Trusky and other parents spoke at the Hillsborough Township Board of Education meeting on May 20.
Trusky also said she has picked up her daughter early from other events when she's called to say she was ready to leave. The mom said there were no calls from any of the students on prom night, and if there were any issues with being overstimulated or other concerns, they would have responded quickly.
Since the Hillsborough prom, at least two invitations have been extended to the Hillsborough special-needs students: an annual "Extreme Prom" event by Special Angels Recreation out of Lyndhurst, and an annual prom hosted by Community Access Unlimited in Elizabeth.
Representing fellow parents Veronica and Marty Mayes, Deborah Myers-Eisenberger, Ken Doyle, Lynn and Dave Lashen, Jeffrey Eisenberger, Debbie Hansen, Donna and Mark Mazzeo and Lisa Valentino, Trusky said the group wanted "to express our gratitude for the generous offer" as they work to coordinate availability and plans.
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