'Heartbreaking': students enrolled in special needs program left out of school's year book

Glenda DeFabio graduated from high school this year. Photos: Facebook
Glenda DeFabio graduated from high school this year. Photos: Facebook 

Like most high school students, Glenda DeFabio was excited to graduate from high school this year. However, when she received her year book her photo wasn't in it.

Her family soon found out it wasn't a mistake that she was left out, realising Glenda, who has Down syndrome, had not been included, nor had any of her classmates enrolled in the special need program at Watchung Hills Regional High School in New Jersey, USA.

Outraged, her sister Claudia took to Facebook to express her family's disappointment in the school in an emotional post, where she calls what the school did "inexcusable".

"She didn't miss picture day or ask for her picture not to be included," the 24-year-old explained in her post, saying "everyone in the special education department was acknowledged: except the students".

Glenda was part of a program at the school that allows special needs students to continue their education until they're 21.

"While the faculty and staff who teach her and her classmates every day were acknowledged, Glenda was not," she wrote. "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," she said outraged.

Ms DeFabio continued detailing the how heartbreaking it was seeing her mother trying to explain to her younger sister that she wasn't in the year book, and why, saying that her sister isn't able to understand how she was seen as different than her 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," Ms DeFabio says, saying that her family was not consulted about the decision before the books were printed.

Glenda DeFabio

Glenda DeFabio Photo: Claudia DeFabio / Facebook

DeFabio then went on to talk about the importance of standing up for others who can't speak for themselves.

"I am speaking out for Glenda and every other student who was cast aside merely due to differences in ability," she says, adding that "silence is compliance."

Watchung Hills Regional superintendent Elizabeth Jewett said in a statement to Today that it was a "miscommunication", and because Glenda had not been enrolled in a specific year group, she had not automatically been put in the year book.

"The District would never exclude any student from any aspect of Watchung Hills due to a disability, race/ethnicity, or for any other reason," the statement said. "We deeply regret that the student mentioned in the post was not pictured in our yearbook, and we apologise to her and her family for this omission."

Ms DeFabio later updated the post, which has been shared over 24,000, to say that the school had since apologised for leaving the special education students out. She also thanked everyone everyone who had shared and bought attention to the story.

"Please continue to advocate for those without a voice, it really makes a difference," she urged readers. "It's amazing what can be accomplished with advocacy and a flood of support!".