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Response to media about handicapped seating at graduation

posted Jun 19, 2018, 5:43 PM by Valerie Newton
Media Release

June 19, 2018

During the week of June 4, the daughter of Jessica Parnell spoke to West Bladen principal Peggy Hester asking if her uncle, Josh Parnell who is wheelchair bound, could sit with family members at the bleachers during the graduation ceremony. Ms. Hester explained to the daughter that the school has a floor-level designated handicapped accessible seating section for wheelchairs, walkers, and strollers.  According to the niece Mr. Parnell said he did not want to sit in the handicapped accessible section.

Due to space constraints, handicapped accessible seating is limited and available on a first-come, first-served basis. To accommodate as many family members and guests with disabilities as possible in the designated handicapped accessible seating section, each individual may only be accompanied by one companion.

Ms. Hester told the niece that if Mr. Parnell wanted a family member to sit with him in the designated handicapped accessible seating section that would be allowed.  

Accommodations are made available for guests with limited mobility. The family was made aware in advance of graduation of the designated handicapped accessible seating section.

Handicap parking is available for vehicles with proper placard/tags along with a drop-off and pick-up area in front of the school. Marshals and school personnel are available to assist handicapped persons as needed when entering and exiting the school building during graduation.

The Parnell family arrived at graduation on Friday, June 15 and sat on the first row of bleachers by the stage and entrance doors. Mr. Parnell positioned his wheelchair along the bleachers with his family.

A short time later, the principal (Ms. Hester) approached the bleachers and spoke to Mr. Parnell explaining that the marshals, graduates and JROTC would be processing through the doors directly beside where he was sitting; would he mind moving to the designated handicapped accessible seating section. Ms. Hester explained that the graduates had practiced processing with clearance in front of the doors and bleachers and needed to be able to process into the ceremony as they had practiced. Although sound equipment was set-up along the front of the bleachers, it was located two sections down from the entrance doors and not blocking the processional.  

Mr. Parnell stated he did not want to sit in the designated handicapped accessible seating section because he would not be able to see the stage as well and was not willing to move.  The family also indicated they had spoken to school board member Roger Carroll and were told by Mr. Carroll they could sit where they wanted.

Ms. Hester ended her conversation with Mr. Parnell.  Approximately 1 minute later a Sheriff’s Deputy asked Mr. Parnell to move to the designated handicapped accessible seating section.  Mr. Parnell, along with a family member did move for the remainder of the graduation.

* In speaking with Roger Carroll on the morning of June 19 as a follow-up to the incident, Mr. Carroll verified to me that he did in fact speak to Jessica Parnell, sister of Josh Parnell during the week prior to graduation concerning the handicapped seating section. Mr. Carroll advised Ms. Parnell to talk to the school principal about her concern. Mr. Carroll also told the Parnell’s they could sit out of the designated handicapped section if they wanted but that if they were asked to move they would need to comply or otherwise leave graduation. Ms. Parnell responded that they would stay and Mr. Parnell would move to the designated section.