Utah student with Down syndrome left out, school criticized

SALT LAKE CITY — A middle school cheerleading program in Utah has received criticism after a student with Down syndrome, who was working as the team manager, was excluded from an official team portrait this year.

Shoreline Junior High School’s cheerleading squad took two official team portraits — one photo with 14-year-old Morgyn Arnold and another photo that included everyone but Arnold, The Salt Lake Tribune reported Wednesday. The latter photo was used by the school on social media and in the yearbook.

Arnold’s older sister, Jordyn Poll, 25, said she believes the decision was made because of her sister’s disability. She also said it was the second time in three years that Arnold was left out of the yearbook — she was not mentioned in the class list two years ago.

“Morgyn is very intelligent,” Poll said, adding that her sister’s name was not even mentioned in the yearbook. “She knew what happened. She was sad, and she was hurt.”

In public posts on Facebook and Instagram, Poll shared the two photos and argued that the school was deliberately excluding her sister. She said her sister spent hours learning the dances, going to games and supporting the team.

“It’s the SAME cheer team — SAME girls, SAME photo shoot, SAME poses, but one included all team members and one did not,” Poll said. “A choice was made on which photo to submit.”

Shoreline Junior High posted an apology on its Facebook page. But the page was later hidden or deleted.

“We are deeply saddened by the mistake that was made that omitted a student photo out of the yearbook,” the post said. “Apologies have been made to the family, and we sincerely apologize to all others impacted by this error. We are continuing to look at what has occurred, and to improve our practice.”

Davis School District in Davis County, just north of Salt Lake City, put out a similar statement.

“We are continuing to look at what has occurred and why it occurred,” the statement said. “We will continue to look at our processes to ensure this does not happen again.”

Poll said her family initially called the school and was told there was nothing they could do, The Tribune reported. She said Wednesday the school contacted the family again and are working “to make the situation right.”

Disability Law Center of Utah attorney Nate Crippes said Wednesday that this type of exclusion happens often in schools across the state, and that the center receives about 4,000 annual complaints. Crippes said all districts can work to improve by adding more accommodations and being more inclusive.

Arnold will be in ninth grade at Shoreline Junior High next year, Poll said, adding that her sister has not yet decided if she will continue being the cheer manager.