Calhoun HS allows student with Down Syndrome to cheer after soci - WRCBtv.com | Chattanooga News, Weather & Sports

Calhoun HS allows student with Down Syndrome to cheer after social media firestorm

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CALHOUN, TN (WRCB) -

Video of a local cheerleader sparked a firestorm on social media.        

The video shows a north Georgia high school junior with Down Syndrome not being allowed to cheer on the football field with the rest of the squad. 

Channel 3's cameras were escorted off the property at Calhoun High School when we arrived Monday morning to find out why Grace Key wasn't allowed to cheer during the football team's first scrimmage of the season. 

VIEW THE PETITION | Let Grace Cheer

Key's family posted on social media her genetic disorder is the reason why she wasn't allowed to cheer on the field or be included in team pictures. 

An online petition supporting Key has gained more than 5,000 signatures over the weekend, one of those from Gloria Holden. 

"If she has been allowed to be part of the team and practice, she should be given the opportunity to get out on the field and be with the other girls," she said. 

School leaders declined to answer Channel 3's questions but did say through a written statement Grace didn't meet the requirements to be on the team but was added to the squad as an honorary member. 

After meeting with Key's parents, the school announced Monday it is adding an honorary coach who also served as a former cheerleader with a disability and can help provide supervision and support. 

A move Holden supports and according to the school's statement, it's one Key's parents do too. 

"Although I do understand that there were other girls who did  not make the squad that could look at this differently, I understand that too. It's kind of a hard situation," Holden added. 

The full statement from Calhoun City Schools Superintendent Dr. Michele Taylor is below: 

"Calhoun City Schools strives to serve all students in an equitable and fair manner while exceeding the black and gold standard of excellence.  Historically, Calhoun City Schools has always included students with disabilities in academics, arts and athletic activities.

In light of recent social media posts, it became apparent that concerns regarding the inclusion of students at extracurricular activities is something that required extra attention.  Calhoun City Schools regrets that any action taken by its programs would contribute to a feeling of exclusion by any of its members.  Inclusion is always the goal when developing programs for all students. Once made aware of the concerns raised in this particular situation, administration worked with the parents to schedule a meeting in order to find an immediate resolution.

Coach Ginger Reeves is one of the most decorated cheerleading coaches in the state.  She has built a strong program, earning six state championships and has been named as Coach of the Year six times as well.   She has been named as Teacher of the Year twice and received the Black and Gold Standard of Excellence Award for Athletics this year.  She is also a special education teacher who loves her students and equally loves her cheerleaders.  She is firm but fair and holds herself and her students to the highest expectations.  Understanding that there are certain limitations of students with special needs, Coach Reeves invited a student with Down Syndrome to participate in pre-game activities which includes cheers, dances and being on the field while the band enters and the football players run through the sign.  While the student did not meet the try-out qualifications, she has been included as an honorary member of the team. Calhoun City Schools recognizes the unique needs of its students and Grace is no exception.  Calhoun High School is proud that Grace is an honorary member of the team.

Grace has been a part of the Calhoun City Schools' family since she started school.  She has been active in a number of school clubs and extracurricular activities.  She has played parts in school plays, attended many school dances and shares her school spirit routinely.  Grace has a large group of friends across the Jacket nation and the Calhoun community loves and supports her.  Grace participated as a member of the CHS swim team this past year where she improved her personal best in a number of events.  The CHS video broadcast program has also featured Grace in "Grace's Faces" a series of online makeup tutorial videos.  "I am a Calhoun native. I graduated from CHS and my parents both graduated from CHS. I love the Yellow Jackets. Grace's teammates on the cheer squad are wonderful and accepting and are very special to Grace. We appreciate the support of Calhoun City Schools.  Today’s meeting is an example of how we can work together to reach a mutually beneficial decision in the best interest of all students.  In advocating for Grace, my hope is to advocate for all exceptional students,” stated Carrie Key, Grace's mom.

The staff of Calhoun City Schools works diligently to provide a safe learning environment that is accessible to every student.  Calhoun City Schools is always open to improving the opportunities of our students while providing a safe environment.  Coach Tonya Reeves Turner, a former CHS cheerleader and coach who recently retired from Calhoun City Schools, has volunteered to serve as the honorary cheerleading coach to provide supervision and support.  “After meeting with the school, we are excited that Coach Turner will lend support for Grace so that she may choose to participate with her peers on the field,” shared Dan & Carrie Key, Grace’s parents.  Coach Turner has been an inspiration to many over the years and she understands what it's like to have some challenges.  We are extremely excited to have Coach Turner serve in this role.  She loves Grace and Grace loves her!  Coach Turner feels confident that she can assist in this role having served as a former cheerleader with a disability.  We're looking forward to a great season of Yellow Jacket football."

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