This morning, we exclusively reported that Glenda DeFabio and her family had yet to hear from superintendent Elizabeth Jewett of Watchung Hills Regional High School. 

As we reported yesterday, Glenda’s sister Amanda Occhipinti had taken to Facebook to share that Glenda (along with other Special Education students) had been left out of the yearbook. She shared the following message on Facebook: 

“Today, my younger sister received her high school yearbook from Watchung Hills Regional High School and was not listed as a student. She didn’t miss picture day or ask for her picture not to be included, she was intentionally left out, as were the remainder of the special education students. 

While the faculty and staff who teach her and her classmates every day were acknowledged, Glenda was not. Everyone in the special education department was acknowledged: except the students. She was not given the same thought and respect that other students immediately received. There wasn’t even the mention of her name in the Index. 

Imagine the heartbreak my mother felt having to explain to my sister why she wasn’t in the yearbook. And Glenda not being able to understand how she was seen as different than her general education classmates. 

My mother did not sign anything refusing for Glenda to be represented in the yearbook, she actually signed a media release for the school to share photos of her as a student. But this wasn’t a privacy issue, because the parents were not consulted about this decision before the books were printed. 

It is inexcusable that Watchung Hills printed a yearbook that specifically excludes the special needs students without any thought. How can a school that praises itself for being upstanding and inclusive defend their blatant discrimination towards a marginalized group of students? 

There is no excuse. This action violates Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), which are both federal rulings that protect individuals with disabilities from discrimination. And as if that weren’t enough, by strategically leaving out students with special needs, Watchung Hills is cherry-picking the image they want to portray to the world. 

Individuals with special needs often cannot advocate for themselves, and subsequently, get overlooked. I am speaking out for Glenda and every other student who was cast aside merely due to differences in ability. Silence is compliance. 

And finally, since the 2,500+ students and faculty didn’t get the honor of seeing Glenda’s yearbook photo, at least the internet can.”

While we would have assumed that the superintendent would have reached out to her and her family by this point, we were certainly disappointed to hear this was not the case. We reached out to Elizabeth to find out why she had not reached out to Glenda and her family yet, even though other administrators had. 

Elizabeth began with re-explaining the situation to us, detailing that “Upon being forwarded the social media post, members of our staff immediately reached out to the student’s parent to inquire as to the issue at hand. As explained in my earlier statements, our post-grad transition program students are not pictured in our 9th-12th grade portraits. However, they may be included in various other aspects of the yearbook.”

“Unfortunately,” she continued, “this student’s club was one of the clubs that was unintentionally not included, and we are seeking to rectify those club omissions through a supplement which can be inserted directly into the binding of the current yearbook. We are heartbroken that the student was eager to see her picture in the yearbook and did not have the opportunity to do so. Had the family reached out to us directly, we would have looked into the matter and worked on resolving it.”

@WHRHS

She then went on to address why she had not contacted the family, telling us that “Our Director of Special Services and Principal, as representatives of the District, both followed up with the family within 24 hours of us learning of the social media post.   While I publicly apologized to the family in my statement issued on Thursday, I felt it would be prudent  to wait until Monday to reach out to the family as they were getting bombarded with calls from the media and had already spoken with two of our key administrators on my behalf and on behalf of the District.”

Elizabeth wrapped with saying that “I remain confident that we will be able to rectify this situation going forward and Glenda’s mother has been very supportive of our efforts.”

While it’s interesting to hear she wanted to wait until Monday, our Instagram post of Glenda was going viral yesterday with over 1500 likes and 269 comments. Many comments came in from celebrities such as Brody Jenner, Tamra Judge, Lea Black, Jacqueline Laurita, Brandi Glanville, Alec Monopoly, and more. If all of these people could take time out of their schedules to wish Glenda well, it is interesting that the leader of the school felt the need to wait until Monday. It is definitely plausible that our story this morning, along with the huge amount of influencers and celebrities commenting may be putting the pressure on the superintendent to reach out. We will be sure to follow up Monday to see if Glenda and her family are indeed contacted and happy with the message they receive.

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1 Comment

  • Lisa Thurston, June 21, 2020 @ 7:01 am Reply

    When referring to a female, please do not use a first name. In journalism, referrals of people use the formal register unless there are two people with the same surname. It reeks of sexism when referring to a female in the informal register by using her first name rather than surname.

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