By Kerry Kavanaugh and Dalton Main, Fox25Boston.com
PELHAM, N.H. — What a school called a “miscommunication” has sent a woman and her son reeling, but it’s brought a community together in support of them.
Max Bedard was turned away from a semi-formal dance at Pelham Memorial Middle School on Friday because he was dressed “inappropriately,” his mother, Michelle Bedard, told WFXT.
Max is autistic and has a sensory processing disorder.
“Chronologically he is 14, but neurologically he’s not,” Bedard, said.
She said it was a big step for him even to be going to the dance.
“He was very excited about it. He was looking forward to it all week,” Bedard said. “He’s never been able to really do anything like this before. He’s very social and he loves people and he was just excited about having this event with all of his friends.”
Bedard said Max showed up at the dance eager to meet his date. He was wearing black sweatpants, a gray long-sleeved T-shirt and a zip-up hoodie – with dog tags in honor of his brother who recently joined the Army.
It was Max’s standard clothing choice because of his disorder.
Bedard said she discovered his issue when she bought him a yard of fleece to make a blanket. When she wrapped it around him and he went into “a meltdown.”
“You notice these things, like when he showers, he doesn’t use warm water,” she said. “Cold does not faze him, heat does,” said Michelle. “He doesn’t get invited to birthday parties, he doesn’t get invited over to friends’ houses — to have play dates so this dance, for him, it was huge.”
But when Max showed up, Bundzinski Bedard said the principal took him to the office and made him call home to tell them he couldn’t wear what he was wearing.
“He was stopped at the door. She said to him, ‘are you really wearing that’ and he said ‘yes’ and she brought him to the office and made him call home. He never made it to the dance and never saw that girl who was meeting him there.”
Bedard had pulled over in the parking lot to make a phone call, but that was interrupted by her husband calling to tell her she had to go back and pick up Max.
“I said, ‘Are you kidding me?’ – a little differently – but ‘Are you kidding me?'” she said.
Bedard said her son got in the car and told her he could go home and get a button-down shirt, but didn’t want to go back because he was too upset.
“He ripped off the wristband that they give them and threw it on the floor of my car,” Bedard said, tearing up. “I drove home listening to my son cry.”
She said she would have bought him a shirt or worked something out, but said the phone call was more than a miscommunication.
In a statement sent to WFXT, the school called it a miscommunication, but “that’s not enough of an explanation,” Bedard said.
“Obviously there were communication breakdowns prior to and during this event that led to this unfortunate situation, and we will use these lessons to make things better for everyone in the future,” the school superintendent, Amanda Lecaroz, said in a letter to the community.
“There’s a spring dance, do you think my son is going to want to go that? He’ll want to, but he’ll be afraid to,” Bedard said. “This one instance will isolate him … my son should be accepted the way he is, just like everyone else is.”
But the community’s response has been overwhelming for the family, Bedard said.
She said everyone has been wearing blue and sharing the hashtag #MaxItMonday, with pictures of students, parents – even dogs – wearing blue.
“There is always an exception to a rule. Nobody should be isolated,” she said. “We need to be kind to each other.”
Below is the letter sent to the community by Pelham School District superintendent Amanda Lecaroz:
This obviously is a very difficult letter to write and I hope it will be received with my intent clear to those who read it; that of healing and unity to our community. I became aware of the controversial semi-formal dance issue yesterday morning through some board members that keep me informed of issues in the community that I may not be aware of because I am not part of many of the social media forums that exist in Pelham. Since being made aware, I have communicated with all parties involved in the incident as well as witnesses to the exchange and I think I need to address a few issues. Number one, the young man was never ‘sent home’ by Ms. Maghakian from the dance on Friday night, but rather sent to her office by other staff members to make a phone call along with several other students to have parents bring alternative clothing to better meet the dress code or clothing expectations of the event. That being said, obviously there were communication breakdowns prior to and during this event that led to this unfortunate situation and we will use these lessons to make things better for everyone in the future.
Number two, however, is a much different issue. I am thrilled to be part of a community that continually rallies around each other, supports each other and fights for each other. That is a team, and those that know me, know that working as a team is VERY important to me. During my discussion with the young man’s mother yesterday morning, she was very happy with the outpouring of love and support that the community had shown her and I was deeply moved this morning when I heard of the dance being planned and the blue wearing for Monday as I view this as another example of how this community rallies together. Although I think the miscommunication and misinterpretation of the events of Friday night led to this, the outcome is something for us all to be proud of.
I am honored to be a part of this community and will happily be wearing my blue tomorrow as well. As always, if you wish to discuss this or any other issues, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org or during work hours (8 a.m.-4 p.m.) at 603-635-1145.
Thank you for helping us to continue to inspire success one mind at a time even when things don’t go quite as we had planned.