Reader Suzanne Grundy responds to Gay, Mentally Challenged Biracial Male Cheerleader Claims Discrimination with a few clarifications about her son's situation.
The much-maligned "male cheerleader" in his native habitat.
It's a little longer than most of the reader comments we run. But if you want more insight into what, so far, has been a pretty divisive post, you'd benefit greatly from reading Suzanne's entirely rational, and sympathetic, response.
This is Ben's Mom. I would like to clarify some points that were a) missing from the news story due to time constraints, and b) many of you have either asked about or commented on without said information.""1. Yes, Ben was a football cheerleader in his Junior year. He had pom poms and used them for the arch when the team members were introduced. During the game, he used a megaphone. That squad planned a dance routine, but ended up not performing it; and, Ben was not going to be allowed to participate in it. Because they did not perform it, it was a moot issue. His uniform was exactly the same as the girls' on that squad. At that time, except for kicks, Ben did everything else his female teammates did. He was ok with this, but told me that next time, he definitely wanted to do everything, including any dance routines.
"2. Due to a lack of availability by potential cheerleaders, there was no football cheer squad this past season. Ben was a one-man recruiting team attempting to get his cheer friends to sign up. He was truly sad there was to be no team, but decided to look ahead to basketball cheerleading.
"3. As soon as the basketball cheerleading sign up list came up, Ben signed up along with10 or 11 other people. The staff discussed tryouts, as they only had six cheerleading uniforms (female). They told Ben and me that he would not have to try out, as he was the only boy. I told them that he would most certainly try out, just like everyone else. He even worked on what he thought was an appropriate floor exercise for the tryouts. They ended up not having tryouts as enough people took themselves off the list to leave five girls and Ben. A sixth girl joined at a later date.
"While this list was up, the Athletic Director asked Ben why he wanted to be a cheerleader - didn't he know he'd have to perform in front of a large crowd - wouldn't he be happier being the school's mascot? (By the way, performing in front of that same large crowd... probably covered up in said mascot outfit.) When he came home that day, he was very upset and confused. He didn't want to be the mascot, he wanted to be a cheerleader. I called the school and asked the Vice Principal I spoke with if the Athletic Director had heard of the word discrimination. I explained what had happened, was profusely apologized to, and told that, yes, Ben would be a cheerleader if that is what he wanted. I received a similar call from the Athletic Director about 10 minutes later. I figured that would be the end of it and dismissed the matter from my mind, as did Ben. While we have had some issues with the school administration in the past, there had never been anything like this before, and I assumed (you know what they say about that word) there would be no further incidents.
"At the first team meeting, Ben asked if he would be able to participate fully and explained the football cheer squad limitations. He and I were told by his coach that he would be a full participant, cheers, dance routines, everything except the pom poms. He wasn't happy about not getting pom poms, but he and I talked about it and decided he could live with that. He was truly excited and happy, as cheering for him was a way to express school spirit and make friends, something those with Asperger's Syndrome find great difficulty in.
"After approximately the first week of practice, the coach implied to me that Ben's male anatomy might be moving around. I told her I would get him a jock strap to resolve this potential issue. I was ignored. However, because Ben's ordered uniform had some sort of manufacturing issue, his coach did indeed go and get him a really nice shirt, which she had embroidered, etc. With the warm up pants from his football cheer team and the shirt, he looked like a cheerleader. The shirt was long and the pants were close enough. I went to the first game, and Ben did most of what the girls were doing. He was happy, and therefore, so was I. That was the whole point... that he was doing something that meant a great deal to him.
"4. The fact there was even more going on didn't come to my attention until we got back from an out of state holiday during the winter break. Ben and I had notified his coach and the school that we would be out of town, especially as I had to take him out of school a few days early. He ended up getting ill that last week and missed the entire time period. I called the school to inform them he was ill and asked them to not only let his teachers know, but his coach, too. When she called that Monday afternoon, he had been sleeping. That ended up being an unexcused absence as he did not call her - which is why he didn't cheer the first game upon coming back from break. He was told this on the 4th of January at practice. He was also informed that he would not get to participate in the upcoming dance routine due to his not informing the coach he would be gone over winter break. The team had been practicing this routine over the break.
"He came home utterly devastated, angry, confused and most certainly heart-broken. I called the coach to discuss the situation and became so angry myself, that before I did or said something I would regret, I told her I couldn't continue the conversation at that time. Then the dam broke and Ben told me all the other things that had been going on. Here's a link to Wikipedia's Asperger's information page:
"Ben tends to hold things in until something happens that brings it all out. He told me that the Athletic Director had continued to pressure him to become the mascot for the school; that his coach was saying the same things; and, that some of his teammates were also telling him to become the mascot. He told me that his coach had begun restricting his movements during cheers. When he asked why, she told him that the older crowd might find it offensive. I was flabbergasted, to put it mildly. So was my older son, home on leave from the Army. We decided a phone call wouldn't be enough this time, as it had apparently not been enough the first time. So we wrote a letter that we sent (yes, to everyone up the school district chain, the A
CLU, Congresswoman McMorris Rodgers, and local TV and News media) to the Principal of the High School delineating the issues and asking for resolution. I gave a suspense date to respond to me with their decision of action.
"If anyone is interesting in viewing the correspondence between myself and the school, send me an email at email@example.com and I will be happy to forward it all to you.
"I was contacted by all three local television networks, interviewed with two of them, and the Lewiston Tribune. Kerri Sandaine wrote a wonderful article in Monday's (2/1/10) paper on this issue. I gave both news people disks with video and pictures from before the first letter and after - this includes Ben's participation in the delayed dance routine - a routine he was given a week to learn. Fortunately he and I had discussed practicing the routine at home as best he could in case anyone changed their minds about his participation. I had no expectations, but did have hope.
"5. After the school received my first letter, they had a flurry of meetings and began making changes which allowed Ben full participation with his squad, including getting him pom poms. His uniform finally showed up; and, while not the male counterpart to the girls' uniforms, it is a uniform. It is the boys tear-away warm ups like the boys basketball members wear with a basketball shirt that has the school logo on it. They should be able to recycle this for a basketball player next season. At this point in time, Ben is happy that he is able to fully participate in all cheer activities.
"6. Finally, some items for clarification.
"a. I do not have a lawyer, although I have spoken to a few to get advice on how to handle this situation.
"b. I am a Veteran of the US Armed Forces with a service connected injury/disability. I receive full compensation from the Veterans Administration. I am not interested in money, nor do I have any plans to sue the school or the district.
"c. I have asked the school to choose letters of reprimand for the staff involved, a splitting up of the Superintendent/Principal position, and a Sexual Harassment and Discrimination Seminar for everyone from the School Board down to the students at the school.
"d. I do not believe there was a conspiracy to discriminate against my son. But, it did happen and certain discriminatory actions are still happening. This screams out the need for education regarding these issues. I also believe everyone is entitled to their own opinion - for, against, or neutral on this or any other issue. However, a public school that receives federal funds must comply with Title IX which forbids discrimination. Not to mention that little thing called the 14th Amendment of our Constitution.
"Finally, until this issue is resolved, I will continue to push for these actions to be taken. I have requested Congressional assistance and have spoken with the ACLU. I am meeting this afternoon with the Third Party Investigator the school has chosen. That this gentleman is one of two Risk Management Investigators for the company (Canfield and Associates) that administers the school's insurance policy and not what I would truly consider an unrelated, unbiased third party is not relevant. But it is ironic. An attorney I did speak with yesterday says he knows this man, and knows he his fair. I intend to be open minded and see what his investigation has to say.
"Should anyone want to contact me, please feel free to do so. You may find my number through information, I am listed. Email is also good - especially if you are interested in the correspondence with and from the school. firstname.lastname@example.org
"I appreciate the interest in this matter; and while I find some of the comments difficult, I also understand that everyone has not been privy to the entire story; too bad the school cannot comment - I, too, would like to know what they are thinking.