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New Jersey Students With Disabilities Say They Were Forced to Leave Prom Early

Update: On Dec. 16, 2019, Democrat & Chronicle reported Katherine Trusky has filed a lawsuit against her daughter’s previous school district for discrimination after several students with disabilities said school aids made them leave the night early so the aides could go home. Trusky’s suit outlines how her daughter, who has Down syndrome, and her friends were “humiliated” by the aides’ actions and denied the same prom experience as their typical peers. The school district responded by denying the discrimination claims in the suit. 

A group of students with disabilities are demanding answers after they say they were forced to leave their high school prom early, ruining what should have been a special night.

On May 29, Hillsborough, New Jersey mother Katherine Trusky penned a scathing article after her daughter Lily, who has Down syndrome, and her peers with disabilities were “forced” and “ejected” from the Hillsborough High School senior prom early. While the Hillsborough Township Public School System has since issued an apology, parents are still disappointed in the school’s response.

The Hillsborough High School senior prom on May 17 was set to last until 11:30 p.m., but the school planned a staggered student departure to avoid a traffic jam. Trusky’s daughter and her friends — nine of whom have disabilities — were set to be picked up in their limo at 11:00 p.m. For Lily and her peers, however, senior prom was cut unexpectedly short.

At 10:40 p.m. Trusky said district aides hired to chaperone the prom decided it was time for the students to leave, nearly 30 minutes ahead of schedule. The students and their parents were not aware of this change and Trusky said it was against school policy for students to leave prom before 11 p.m. Other students were not asked to leave early, and Lily and her friends missed the crowning of prom queen and king.

“At 10:40, three kids were pulled off the dance floor,” Hillsborough student Emily Valentino, who does not have a disability, told the Patch. “We begged to stay. One of the aides said we could stay. We ended up watching the king and queen through the doors, crying and protesting.”

According to Trusky, a 17-year-old student who has a disability was tasked by parents to coordinate with their limo driver. He tried to advocate for the group of teens. He told aides he would call the limo driver to verify the correct departure time. Trusky alleges the aides attempted to take away the student’s phone and asked hotel security to escort him out.

“If there was confusion, they could’ve just called our parents,” Valentino said. “One girl in our group tried to show them a text from our parents, but they ignored it.”

Deborah Myers-Eisenberger, whose son Luke was among students asked to leave early, told Patch parents were not contacted. Another parent, Veronica Mayes, whose daughter was also among students asked to leave early, said the limo driver told her the next day the “aides seemed to be in a hurry to end the night,” New Jersey 101.5 reported.

During a Board of Education meeting on May 20, parents and students who were asked to leave prom early expressed dismay about their prom experience and how the actions of the district aides caused distress for the group of students.

“We are very disheartened to have to tell you that they were rounded up, all of them, 11 of them, before they finished their dessert, before king and prom queen and last dance, and they were made to leave against their will,” Myers-Eisenberger said during the meeting. “They were humiliated and herded out like sheep.”

“It broke my heart to see how sad everyone was,” Valentino wrote in a letter read during the meeting. “We were ushered out of the prom like animals at the zoo.”

In response to continued advocacy by parents, on June 3, Hillsborough Township Public School System superintendent Jorden Schiff issued a lengthy statement apologizing for the incident and said the district conducted a “thorough investigation.”

“As a result of that investigation, the administration concluded that while certain parents of students with disabilities requested an early dismissal from the prom, these students were erroneously dismissed earlier than requested and contrary to their wishes to remain,” the statement read. It continued:

The Board agrees that this resulted in an unacceptable scenario leaving students and their families with the impression that they could not stay until the end of the prom, which should not have happened … The Board and the administration sympathize with the affected students and their families. During the course of the investigation, the administrators apologized in person to the students and parents with whom they met or communicated, and, as the investigation drew to a close, the principal sent a letter to all of the parents last week that reiterated this apology and the school’s staunch belief that their children deserved better, as well as offered a special activity to those students to remind them that they are valued members of the school family. The Board of Education offers its sincerest apology, as well.

While Schiff also wrote that the district was taking steps to ensure such an incident would not be repeated, he did not detail any specific actions. Tursky doesn’t feel like the school’s statement goes far enough for students with disabilities in the district who want to feel included with their peers.

“Apologies are important and I hope the district is sincere, but we haven’t seen any action,” Trusky told Patch. “Their words will never be enough to make up for the humiliation they endured.”

Update: The Mighty reached out to Hillsborough Township Public School System for comment. On Monday, the school distract responded with the same statement published on its website on June 3.

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