NJ special needs kids made to leave prom early — school investigating
HILLSBOROUGH — Families are demanding answers after a group of special needs students and their guests were made to leave the Hillsborough High School Senior Prom nearly an hour early, amid repeated objections, according to parents of those involved.
For the special event on Friday night, May 17, at the East Brunswick Hilton Hotel, three paid district adult aides were at the prom to assist nine students with disabilities, per district and state guidelines for special needs students, according to Katherine Armstrong, one of several parents who wrote a joint letter to media and who together attended a school board meeting to voice their concerns.
District officials say they're looking into the incident.
The parents, in their letter and statements to the board, said there was advance notice to all prom attendees that no students or limousines were to exit until 11:15 p.m. at the earliest. The students and their guardians had agreed to their departure at that time, according to the letter, written by Hillsborough resident and mother Katherine Trusky, representing a group of 12 parents.
Instead, the letter said a "forced ejection" of the group happened at 10:40 p.m. The prom did not end until nearly an hour later, following the announcement of Prom King and Queen and the last dance, at 11:30 p.m., based on school correspondence, according to Trusky.
She also said district aides called the limo driver early, in advance of the agreed upon early "dismissal," despite students showing the aides text messages from parents about the previously made plans.
Security was eventually called on one male student, who had objected to being made to leave early, as several of the students were brought to tears about missing the end of their senior prom, according to Trusky and another mother, Deborah Myers-Eisenberger.
Trusky's daughter, Lily, has Down syndrome and was among nine developmentally disabled students who were joined by two neuro-typical friends for the prom event, she said. Trusky and several other parents spoke at the Hillsborough Township Board of Education meeting just days after the prom, on May 20.
Following parents' comments at the meeting, Hillsborough Superintendent of Schools Jorden Schiff said the board took the concerns "very seriously" and that an investigation was under way. He said the district has "so many special education teachers and instructional assistants" that care deeply for the children.
Schiff also said the district prides itself on being inclusive and he promised to "get to the bottom" of the incident, making sure officials find out "all the information and all the facts" as the staff has the right to due process.
The township posted video of the meeting to Youtube a week later, as seen below. The public comments regarding the prom begin around the 1 hour, 10 minute mark.
Veronica Mayes, whose daughter Ronise was among the group of special needs students at the prom, said at the board meeting that she had arranged for a limo driver to arrive at 11 p.m., which was disrupted by the adult aides at the prom that evening. Mayes said the driver told her the following day that the "aides seemed to be in a hurry to end the night."
Marty Mayes, Ronise's father, also spoke at the meeting and said the prom ticket issued to all attendees had one dismissal time printed, different from a time given in an email his family received from the high school principal and different still from a dismissal time sent to his family by the school's child study team.
The families of the students made to leave early have said they would like to see the aides ultimately fired, along with a "public apology and special education training for all remaining district aides among other damages," Trusky said in her letter.
"While the board cannot comment on individual circumstances due to privacy concerns on behalf of both students and staff members, it can indicate that whenever there is an allegation of discrimination, administrators are tasked with investigating the allegations and take such action as is appropriate," Schiff said in a written response to an email.
The letter by Trusky also represented the concerns of the Mayes family and Myers-Eisenberger, as well as Ken Doyle, Lynn and Dave Lashen, Jeffrey Eisenberger, Debbie Hansen, Donna and Mark Mazzeo and Lisa Valentino.
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