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 He said no, quoting an outdated statute.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.