If you are here in town and you saw this story, it probably got your attention. There are lot of people who feel strongly on both sides of this story. I got this email from a mom in Woodford County, Illinois.
“My son was supposed to go on a field trip with his first grade class and because the train is not handicap accessible, he can not go-nor did the school offer to do anything to help include him. “ Sophia Senn
Sophia's son, Dakota missed his field trip to the zoo. He knew about the trip and had been talking about how he was so excited to go. I went to his house and got to meet him. He is such a sweet kid.
Dakota has Cerebral Palsy and a trach, so Sophia is used to calling ahead before he goes anywhere. The school's principal said he would make sure the Amtrak train the kids were taking was wheelchair accessible. The principal called Sophia and said it was not.
Here's the verbatim from the story we ran on WHOI:
Eight-year-old Dakota Senn is used to being left out. He has Cerebral Palsy and a tracheotomy in his neck. His medical needs don’t allow him to do everything other kids can do. But when he missed his end of the year field trip to the zoo, his mom decided something needs to be done. Dakota said, “I felt a little sad that I didn't go." Sophia Senn said, "We have an 8 year old child. That's how we see him. He wants to be included. He wants to be able to do things."
Sophia says she called Sowers Elementary School in Roanoke a couple days before the field trip to make sure the Amtrak train the kids were taking to the zoo was wheelchair accessible.
Sophia said, "I got a phone call back that next morning, telling me unfortunately the train was not handicapped accessible. I said, I guess then that Dakota misses school and no further arrangements were made. " Jen asked District 60 Superintendent Rohn Peterson:”Why was the parent even called? Why wouldn't the school try and figure out a way for the kid to go before they called the mom and said, you're son can't go.” Superintendent: Peterson said, “Yeah, we probably should have thought through that a little bit. Maybe we could have taken him right directly to Bloomington."
Peterson says the school certainly wasn’t trying to leave Dakota out. He says part of the field trip was riding the train and Dakota often misses school for medical reasons. So when his mom said she would keep him home that day, the principal didn’t think anything of it.
Dakota said, “That kind of makes me mad right now.” It makes his mom and his nurse a little mad too.” Registered Nurse Nicole Bohth said, “"He mentioned a couple times that he wished he could go. That started a couple days ahead of time."
But the school didn’t realize how big of a deal this was to Dakota and his family. Peterson said, "I think communication is the issue and I think we probably failed on our end and the mom should have contacted us as well and maybe expressed some of these feelings."
Peterson says this situation is a reminder for all schools to do everything they can to include kids with special needs, so kids like Dakota don’t get left behind.
We were talking about this story in the newsroom and thought it was awfully strange that Amtrak has a train that isn't wheelchair accessible. So I called Amtrak. Sure enough, they made a mistake. The train was wheelchair accessible all along. Amtrak does ask that you call ahead of time to let them know a wheelchair passenger will be boarding. Basically, Amtrak sent out the wrong form email to the principal at Sowers Elementary School. I have a copy of that email and it clearly states the train is not handicap accessible. Amtrak offered Dakota and his family free roundtrip tickets to Chicago to make up for the mistake.
Superintendent Peterson was very nice. He didn't act defensive. He said it was a mistake that won't happen again. He said he didn't even realize there was a problem until after the field trip was over and it was too late to make any arrangements.
UPDATE: Here's the You Tube video:
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