Two Staff Images, One Distinction: The Cheerleader With Down Syndrome

Morgyn Arnold is a born cheerleader. Growing up attending sporting events in Utah with her six older siblings, she followed in the footsteps of her father and sister by becoming a cheerleader herself.

Morgyn, who has Down syndrome, gave her the chance to make friends and feel included after switching to school last summer.

But when the school yearbook came out a few weeks ago, Morgyn (14) was not listed in the team photo or in the roster. The school has since apologized for a “mistake” but Morgyn’s sister, Jordyn Poll, said she believed the expulsion was intentional.

Ms. Poll, 25, described on Facebook this week how two almost identical photos were taken during the team’s photo shoot: one with Morgyn and one without. The photo without Morgyn was used for the school yearbook and social media accounts.

“We found out when Morgyn came home from school with her yearbook and she was devastated,” she said. “Watching her how she feels and watching her how it broke my heart.”

The controversy is just the latest in a series of mess over yearbooks. Students and parents demanded an apology after a Florida high school altered photos of dozens of girls to cover more of their chests and yearbooks in Florida, Texas and North Carolina responded to their coverage of the Black Lives Matter movement.

Shoreline Junior High School in Layton, north of Salt Lake City, publicly apologized Tuesday on its Facebook page to Morgyn’s family and “everyone else affected by the mistake.”

School staff involved in the cheer group did not respond to requests for comment. But Shauna Lund, the Davis School District’s community relations supervisor, told the New York Times the incident is being investigated and the school plans to work with the family to make sure this doesn’t happen again.

“We are deeply saddened by the mistake that was made,” said Ms. Lund. “We’re still investigating what happened and why it happened.”

Morgyn’s father, Jeff Arnold, said he wanted to use the situation to raise awareness of the importance of considerate inclusion and compassion, rather than blaming the school.

“If we can find ways to prevent this from happening to anyone else, that’s all we want,” said Arnold. “That’s all that matters because we can’t go back and put them in the yearbook.”

Morgyn’s family didn’t want her to speak to the Times directly because of concerns about online harassment. But according to Ms. Poll, Morgyn has already forgiven everyone involved.

She said her sister had a positive experience on the team, where she spent hours learning dances, attending games, and cheering on classmates.

“These girls loved her. These girls have tried to do everything in their power to be inclusive and kind to her, ”said Ms. Poll. “It’s not very often that people get them involved.”

One of Morgyn’s teammates, Maddie Campbell, 15, wrote that the team was “unhappy” when she found out she was not on the yearbook page. “Seeing their cheers would always make me so happy,” she wrote.

Maddie said she can’t remember whether the photographer or team advisor asked Morgyn to sit out of some of the team’s photos and can’t remember getting an explanation for the action. She thought it was a strange request at the time, she said.

Morgyn, who has cheered all her life, often practices by singing and dancing around the house. One of her favorite cheers is asking fans in the stands to shake their booty.

Ms. Poll described her sister as a cheeky, cheeky teenager with a big heart. “She’s a personal cheerleader with everyone she comes in contact with,” she said.

Going forward, Ms. Poll said she would appreciate if students with developmental disabilities had more opportunities to engage with their classmates rather than being “hidden in the special needs room”. She also wants people to understand that just because someone is different, their worth is no different.

Since the yearbook photo caught public attention, Mr. Arnold said he had read hundreds of messages with similar stories about children – both with and without disabilities – who were left out.

“This is about how we can make it better for everyone, not just Morgyn,” said Arnold.

And next school year, he said, Morgyn plans to cheerlead her friends with them.

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