Neurodiverse kids should not be marginalized when it comes to school district’s extracurricular activities

Princeton Public Schools officials pride themselves on the district’s commitment to “access”, “equity”, “inclusion”, and “diversity”. When it comes to neurodiversity in extracurricular activities, however, these words are hollow. Exclusionary practices occur routinely in school-funded extracurricular activities. In blatant and insidious ways, school clubs, theater productions, and sports teams marginalize our neurodiverse kids.

Our story is one of many and not the most heartbreaking one within the Princeton Public Schools.

Our 9th-grade son has dyslexia and ADHD and has had an IEP since the second grade. He is also a fun, intelligent, kind, easy-going kid who plays soccer. His struggles with reading, writing, and focus in traditional classroom settings were made impossible with the onset of online and then hybrid learning. The Princeton Public Schools district tried but was ultimately unable to provide him with a legally mandated “free and appropriate education.”  

Last fall, at no cost to the Princeton Public Schools, we moved our son to a school that specializes in teaching kids with dyslexia and ADHD. This new school is much too small to have a soccer team. This summer, our son asked us if he could try out for the freshman soccer team at Princeton High School. Since our son is a member of our community and has played soccer for years with his gen-ed peers, it seemed reasonable. We told him that we would ask.

Before we asked, we discovered that this sort of thing is allowed by the school board’s own statutes. Optimistic, we approached the athletic director at the high school. He said no, quoting an outdated statute. When we sent him the updated statute, he consulted the secretary for the board of education. The secretary also said no and consulted the district’s Lawyer, who also said no. No one gave us a reason, just that they were, “sticking with their original decision to not (emphasis theirs) let him try out.” We then wrote to the superintendent’s office. We were still hopeful, having seen her speech about reimagining education, educating the whole child, and the importance of equity and inclusion. Her office replied with a formal letter, saying no.

Since this decision is ultimately up to the board of education, we next sent an email petitioning its members. We heard no response. I then spoke on my son’s behalf at the Aug. 24 board of education public meeting. We have still not heard from the board of education. We have, however, heard from the district’s lawyer letting us know that the board of education is not required to vote on this matter. For our son, from top to bottom, the Princeton Public Schools district has failed to stand for equity and inclusion. 

We still hope for a favorable vote from the board of education. We hope that the Princeton Public Schools will seize this opportunity to live up to its inclusionary promises. We hope that our son will be allowed to play soccer with his friends.

I challenge everyone at the Princeton Public Schools to see our 1 in 5 kids with learning differences with a “lens of equity and inclusion” inside and outside of the classroom. These kids, wherever and however they are educated, are members of our Princeton community. They deserve consideration and inclusion as the whole and perfect people that they are. 


Megan Mitchell


  1. What in the world is Princeton thinking?! I’m so disappointed and angry with them!! Let him try out for the team!! Why on earth are you telling him no?

  2. Seems like a pretty obvious case of bias. I’m sure there are any multitude of exceptions to the rule that have occurred but with the lack of neurodiversity in positions of leadership these claims are ignored due to a tragic lack of empathy and, frankly, basic decency.

  3. Dear Megan,
    I am so sorry to hear your son’s story. Unfortunately, your story is typical. The Princeton School District pretends to be a caring district, but most of their language is just for show. There are countless stories of students who have been treated poorly or cruelly by the school district, for no reason then they can. Often, one will find that other local school districts handle these situations in a much more caring and educationally responsible manner. I have no idea why our community allows the school district to continue to act as it does.

  4. This is sadly one of many examples of punishing a child for being “different”. Instead of embracing his differences and using this as a teachable moment the Princeton school district is playing into the very stereotypes it purports to dissuade. As a parent and taxpayer in Princeton, and frankly just as a decent human being, I am appalled by the callousness of not even having an open dialogue with the parents and child. Do better Princeton public schools.

  5. This could be an easy win for both the 9th grader, who just wants a chance to be considered, and the school district. The school district wouldn’t have to spend any money and there would be zero effort on its part. Shameful, PPS. You need to get your act together. There aren’t many people these days, who have anything nice to say about your efforts.

  6. Unacceptable! Shame on PPS. They are failing our community in many different ways. It’s time for walk the talk and transparency.

  7. The hypocrisy of the school district is too much to bear sometimes. They have a mission statement that talks about “preparing all our students to lead lives of joy and purpose,” yet they so clearly focus on the “top end” and do the bare minimum (or less) to help those who have different needs.
    It is disheartening that PPS chooses to think and act no better than many of the big city schools when it comes to educating kids with special needs:

  8. Neurodiverse kids are expensive. We are not wanted here. There are countless stories of children being failed by the school district. Frankly, if the school district is unable to follow the law, it needs to be held to account.

  9. Agree with the comments here, PPS gives a lot of lip service to being inclusive, student-centric, etc., but nearly every time will retreat behind vague, non-existent, and made-up policies, often in violation of their own rules – and it goes right up the chain to the BOE. The above-average academic demographics of the community have long allowed them to coast with below-average schools without being punished in school rankings etc., and it is getting worse.

  10. @Anonymous The school district is hypocritical in all areas. It’s not like they are focusing on the top students at the expense of other students. They are failing the top students too as there are many top students who are being denied the same educational opportunities their peers in West Windsor and Montgomery receive. It’s routine for the district to say something isn’t possible even though West Windsor does it on a routine basis. Instead, the school district has created a number of artificial prerequisites that prevent students from progressing naturally. Instead, students have to move at a much slower rate or take unnecessary summer courses that students in other districts don’t have to take. The reason is to discourage students from taking more advanced courses that they are qualified to take, by making it difficult and onerous to complete the “requirements” (which don’t exist in other districts) to enroll in those course. I think there is just general neglect of all students in the school district.

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