The Arlington Independent School District is apologizing to a student and his family after his school placed him and his wheelchair away from other students during a recent photo opportunity.
It was supposed to be Tyson Wenzel’s big moment. The 9-year-old was being singled out for making the honor roll, having perfect attendance, and being an outstanding citizen. But when he left Swift Elementary that day, he felt singled out for a different reason.
“Yeah, it hurt my feelings,” said Wenzel. “I was like, 'OK, why am I all the way over here? They’re all the way over there. Why am I isolated from all the other students?'”
On December 2, the school held a special ceremony to recognize its students’ achievements for the first and second six week period of the school year. After each round of awards were passed out, teachers and administrators lined the kids up for a picture.
“After the very first picture I noticed that something wasn’t quite right,” said Tracy Alderman, Tyson’s mother. “Tyson was on one side and all the other students were gathering near the teacher on the other side.”
Alderman was at the school that morning to watch the ceremony. When she saw the gap, she motioned for Tyson to move his wheelchair closer to the other kids. But when he tried, a school staff member told him to stay where he was.
“Now he’s leaning [into the picture],” said Alderman. “And that’s when my heart just sank.”
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They positioned him to the side for five additional pictures. Alderman doesn’t believe the staff was trying to be mean-spirited – they were most likely trying to keep the ceremony moving. But she said that doesn’t make what they did any less hurtful.
“They did it six times,” said Alderman. “At that moment, I saw I was the only one that seemed to be putting up a fight. The staff sure wasn’t.”
Arlington ISD said it has apologized for what it characratized as an unintentional move.
“Creating a culture of inclusiveness and equal access for students with disabilities is very much a district priority in the Arlington ISD," the district said in a statement. "While it was not the intention of those involved to isolate the student in the photos, it was certainly a mistake for which we have apologized to the family and are working to correct.”
The district said it’s working with the principal at Swift Elementary and its special education department to provide additional training for the staff at the school. A district spokesperson said that training will be mandatory.
Both Tyson and Alderman said it’s hard for them to accept the district’s apology at this point. They want to see proof that the district lives up to its word so this never happens again.
“Are they sorry?” said Alderman. “I’m sure they’re sorry. But do I think they’ve been doing things all along to prevent these situations, doing the best they can? Absolutely not.”
Tyson and his family have since moved out of Arlington for unrelated reasons. Alderman said they wanted to share their story to raise awareness and ultimately improve things for students with disabilities.