INDEPENDENCE, Mo. — A cheerleader at Truman High School in Independence says the athletic department is restricting her participation because of her wheelchair.
Her family said she was blocked from joining cheerleaders on the field over fears her chair might damage the turf.
On Monday at the Santa Fe Park Picnic Pavilion, blades of grass and tufts of clover bounced back from the wheels controlled by 18-year-old Lacy Kiper, who’s entering her second year on the Patriot cheer squad.
“It’s definitely been very challenging to find some place to feel involved because, for the most part, I’ve only ever been the only wheelchair user in my school,” Kiper said.
Kiper was born with Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type 5, so her bones break very easily.
“I had broken both of these arms and the bone wasn’t placed right, so when the new bone started to grow here, it just fused them where they were positioned,” she said, indicating bends in her forearms.
Her dad, Charles Kiper, up until two years ago, she was very protected.
“And she said, ‘I want to do cheerleading.’ I told the school I would put her on the mats if they want. I’ll be there for every game if they want. I’ll be sure that she’s got someone to assist her in any way to be a part of this team. And they have pretty much turned me down on most everything,” Charles Kiper said.
That’s the trend that the Kipers said intensified this school year. Lacy said she’s been largely ignored or made to feel like a distraction. And recently the field was used as reasoning, she said, to separate her.
“They didn’t want my wheels, I guess, to be too heavy and damage a little bit of the turf for me to get stuck in it,” Lacy Kiper said.
“But even for the basketball gym they said no. And I was like, ‘That’s a floor that I go on all the time,'” she said.
“I have provided them with three doctors notes from her lifelong orthopedic surgeon who’s done all the surgeries and have known her since she was 2 months old. And they still tell me no,” Charles Kiper said.
It’s left this Independence family feeling frustrated.
“It irritates me especially because I’m not even being given the, ‘Hey, do you think you could?’ or the ‘Hey, this is coming up in advance — everybody else doesn’t know yet but we want to know your thoughts on how you could participate,'” Lacy Kiper said.
“Because I would love to have my ideas involved in it, too,” she said.
The Independence School District told FOX4 it’s willing to talk about this case, but first it would need Lacy’s dad to sign some privacy releases. Up to now, Lacy’s dad has declined to do so. He tells FOX4 he fears giving up too many of his daughter’s rights.
In a statement to FOX4 after the initial story aired, Independence School District Superintendent Dr. Dale Herl said, “There is absolutely no truth to the statement the district would not allow Lacy’s wheelchair to be on the field.”
Here’s the full statement from the Independence School District on the situation:
“A local newspaper recently published an opinion editorial with significant inaccuracies.”
“The District cannot substantively respond to such inaccuracies without consent to release student records from the parent. In this matter, the parent chose not to sign HIPAA and FERPA releases to allow the District to respond.”
“Without those releases, the District is limited in what it can discuss. While the Independence School District cannot respond substantively to the editorial, the District would like to reiterate that it takes the safety of all involved in our activities seriously, and remains committed to ensuring that our programs and activities are inclusive, safe, and welcoming for all students.”