Josie Webster and Exclusion

Josie Webster.  A name that is going to become famous and linked with segregation in schools.

If you have missed all the fervour, the basic story goes like this – Josie, a year 10 girl with Down Syndrome, missed her year 10 formal.  The formal was planned and organised by parents of mainstream year 10 students, and aside from notes being given out at school (and some teachers attending), the school had no part in it.  Josie’s mother never received a note, and did not know the event was on until long after it was over.  She blames the school for not including her child, and is especially annoyed that proceeds from the night went to the special education unit that Josie attends.  In the spirit of feeling better, she made a video of her daughter’s life achievements and posted it on YouTube.

Then the media picked it up and all hell has broken loose for the entire school community.

At last – they are all united.

(Links below)

Always interested in getting both sides of the story, and never trusting the media to get things right, I started reading the comments.  Year 10 students, parents of those students and others in the community are standing up for the school.  People who know the Webster family are sticking up for the family.  And everyone else is having a go at slinging mud one way or another.

Maybe Josie received a note (invitation) to the formal, or maybe she didn’t.  If she did, it appears that it did not make it home.  My own son this year has missed a few events because notes did not make it home.  In a way, we have used the experience to try and teach him to be more attentive.  In another way, my son has Aspergers, being attentive does not come at all naturally, and a little help from teachers or other staff would be greatly appreciated!

One would think regular email contact with his teacher, being friends with other parents in the same year, and being the school P and C secretary would mean that I would have an inkling as to what is going on, however even though I should be the queen of knowledge, far too often, I am completely in the dark.

Some people commenting on the story are stating that the teachers/school/parents organising the event, should have made sure that invitations were received by calling the parents who had not RSVP’d.  Others are replying that this isn’t possible due to privacy concerns, and they would be correct.  There are privacy concerns.  Schools can’t give out phone numbers all willy nilly like.

Regardless of whether the school was organising the event or not, I do think that they had a responsibility to ensure that such notes given out at school made it home.  I wonder why no one thought to put something in the school newsletter?  Could the special education teacher have sent a few emails, or talked to parents when they collected their children, or even just ensured that notes made it to bags?  Phone calls could have been made by admin staff for the few children who are in the special education unit, or for any parents that didn’t RSVP – this is how I get in touch with parents I need to contact for Bookclub (due to same privacy concerns mentioned above).  Our own school FaceBook page is excellent at telling us what HAS happened, but never tells us about events that are coming up!  Why is that?  We live in the technological age – it doesn’t take much effort these days to reach a large group of people, and there are many ways that the school could have helped facilitate communication here.

The school chose not to facilitate communication.  I hope they don’t make that mistake again, and I hope that other schools learn from their mistake.

Another excuse/reason from the “the school had nothing to do with it” mob is that the school had nothing to do with it.

That is a cop out.  The school had everything to do with it.  It was a school event whether they liked it or not.  This wasn’t a “close friends only” birthday party.  It was a high school formal, complete with teacher attendance.  The school put their stamp of approval on it when they allowed the school grounds to be used in a formal way by allowing notes to go out en masse during assembly, rather than leave it to the kids to hand them out among each other before school, or at lunch.

There is a third favourite position among those commenting on the story – that children talk to one another, so Josie must have known that it was happening.  After all, she looks smart enough on the video.

Head.  Meet.  Wall. 

For starters, one’s intellectual development must be below a certain level in order to “qualify” for entry into a special education unit.  People with Down Syndrome typically have an intellectual disability.  And even if they didn’t – my son is gifted and can’t get notes, or information, home!  So whether she “looks smart” or not is irrelevant.  She needed help.  She should have had it.

Secondly to the point that children talk to one another; and here is the big one, the huge blindingly obvious problem that will be obvious to anyone with a disability… just how many of those kids is Josie regularly talking to?  Let’s be honest here – kids with Down Syndrome are often treated like your favourite pet – lovely to hang around because they’re all happy and shit, but you wouldn’t have a real conversation with them.  I have read many comments by students in Josie’s class that state that she is well loved, well liked, and a part of the school community.

Yeah.  Just like my cats are part of the family.

I haven’t read any comment by any student yet that states “oh yeah, well, we talked with Josie about dresses just a few days before the event”, or “we hang out with Josie at lunch and were often talking about the formal”.

Are any of the kids friends with Josie on Facebook?  Do any of them hang out with her after school or on weekends just because they like her and they’re friends?  Does she get invited to sleepovers?

Does she have any mainstream friends?  Actual friends?

So yeah – mainstream kids would have been talking to each other about the formal.  But who was talking to Josie about it?

Perhaps the mother overreacted.  Perhaps the school screwed up.  Regardless of who is right and who is wrong with this actual episode of the year 10 formal, one thing is clear – exclusion is alive and well.

And mainstream society, as always, is completely blind to it.



The original video on YouTube that I saw has had it’s settings changed to “private”.  Here is another copy:

Josie Webster

We Did Nothing Wrong Says “Formal Snub” School – Nine News

When Josie Webster and the disabled kids weren’t invited to the school dance, her mother made a revenge video –

Engadine High rejects segregation claim of special needs student– St George and Sutherland Leader






Disability consumer and activist. Pissed off since 1995... Mad as a hatter since way before that.

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Pissed off since 1995. Mad as a hatter since way before that.

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