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Disabled Teen Refuses To Be Paired With Student With Down Syndrome Who Keeps Stealing Cane

Upset woman sitting in classroom
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We like to think of schools as being educational, inclusive, and protective spaces for all students, but discriminatory attitudes can appear here as easily as anywhere else.

When this is a student’s experience, it’s hard for them to get the support they need, cringed the “Am I the A**hole?” (AITA) subReddit.

Redditor Subject_Card_1414 was in a specialty classroom for students who were graduating late due to a variety of extenuating circumstances, but she was only one of two students with disabilities in the class.

The teacher decided to always pair her with the other disabled student in class, despite the Original Poster (OP)’s about his abusive behavior toward her.

She asked the sub:

“AITA for refusing to be paired up with the Down Syndrome kid?”

The OP was in a specialty classroom with a student with Down Syndrome.

“I’m 16 (Female), and I am in a special class in my high school for ‘special needs’ students. It’s not purely for disabled kids, but mostly for people ages 16 to 20 who had drug or mental health problems that led them to drop out of school.”

“There’s one kid in the class, Daniel (17 Male), and he has Down Syndrome.”

“I have an autoimmune condition that makes me miss a lot of school because I’m in hospital, and I use a cane or a walker.”

The OP was frustrated by the teacher, who always paired the two of them up.

“Our class coordinator, Brenda, likes to get us to do different activities during the day because our classes are structured differently from the rest of the school. They’re mostly for trying to get us to socialize by doing activities like board games or helping out in the school canteen.”

“Daniel and I are the only two ‘physically disabled’ students in the class and because of this, we keep getting paired up.”

“I hate it. He’s really rude to me and will do stuff like take my cane and give it to his other friends because he thinks it’s funny.”

The OP tried to talk to Brenda about this but to no avail.

“I’ve told Brenda that he won’t quit harassing me and I don’t want to be left alone with him.”

“She just tells me I’m being prejudiced against his condition and lying about it because ‘he has Down Syndrome and not a mean bone in his body.'”

“I’m now refusing to do anything with him and walked out of the kitchen when we were both rostered.”

The OP wasn’t receiving support elsewhere, either.

“AITA for this?”

“Everyone keeps saying that people with Down Syndrome don’t know how to be mean so I don’t know if this is actually discriminatory.”

“I also tried to go to the principal, but it just turned into a loop, because Brenda’s in charge of the program, and the principal will just shut it down if it’s not working, so he just tells me to talk to her about it.”

“And I haven’t really talked to my parents about it, because they’d take me out of school to be homeschooled. They don’t like me being in public school with my condition because of the added stress already.”


Fellow Redditors weighed in:

  • NTA: Not the A**hole
  • YTA: You’re the A**hole
  • ESH: Everybody Sucks Here
  • NAH: No A**holes Here

Some reassured the OP that she wasn’t the one being discriminatory. 

“Brenda and others are being discriminatory. They are actively discriminating against people with Down Syndrome by pigeonholing them and assuming that they cannot run the full gamut of personalities (including being an a**hole).”

“People with Down Syndrome are just as diverse and nuanced in personality as the rest of us.”

“You are not discriminating, however. You are not biased based on his condition but only on his behavior. That is a different issue altogether.” – chop1125

“She’s the one being discriminatory. Just because this other kid in your class has Down Syndrome doesn’t mean he’s an angel. He’s just as fallible as the rest of us. His taking your cane is a major safety issue.”

“Write a formal e-mail to the principal. CC whoever you can find above them (school board, etc.). Go to a school board meeting and bring it up!”

“Are your parents also turning a blind eye to this problem? You could ask them to step in for you.”

“I’m so sorry you have to advocate for yourself in this situation.” – Lulu_42

“‘People with Down Syndrome can’t be mean’ is such an inaccurate, ableist, and infantilizing belief to promote. It’s a harmful stereotype, even if it sounds nice, because it limits them as people and tries to limit how they can express themselves.”

“People with Down Syndrome can be mean. They can be selfish and angry and frustrated and bitter because newsflash Susan and everyone else telling OP this nonsense, they’re normal people.”

“They’re not Baymax or a cartoon character or an adorable kids show sidekick. They’re just normal humans with a neurodivergence.” – SeaworthinessNo1304

“I don’t buy the statement that kids with Down Syndrome can’t be mean, either. I don’t have much experience with folks that have it. But I just don’t buy it. You might convince me that they don’t fully understand or appreciate the severity of certain things they might do.”

“But should that matter to the recipient of those actions when they’re still hurtful or nasty or even harmful? I think that Down Syndrome should be taken into account when they deal with that kid, sure. But that shouldn’t also be used to delegitimize the fact that OP is dealing with some sh*tty things from him.” – ForTheHordeKT

“You shouldn’t need to be entirely homeschooled. The school system should still be providing an education if you need to be home.”

“My district offered to send a tutor in the weeks I was unable to attend, but I could still come to school on other weeks.”

“They did the same for kids with a variety of conditions.”

“Maybe it would be best to contact the superintendent’s office to discuss your concerns with the program leader and oversight. But also your preference that a program be offered.”

“Side note: Brenda saying that a person with Down Syndrome cannot also be an AH is very ableist.”

“A disabled person can do or be anything, good or bad (that their specific disability doesn’t prevent).”

“Beethoven was a deaf composer. Chuck Tingle is a wildly popular autistic man. Oscar Pistorius is an Olympic sprinter and a convicted murderer. Joseph Mesa Jr. is deaf AND serving a life sentence for robbing and murdering 15 people.”

“Your classmate is fully capable of having Down’s and being a bully. She needs to give him more credit for having his own personality and agency. Down Syndrome isn’t a personality or a guarantee of sainthood. It’s just a chromosomal abnormality.” – Phantasmal

Others recommended what the OP should say to Brenda next.

“If it’s not working, the program SHOULD be shut down. I would express this to Brenda in a concerned manner (even though it’s actually a threat, it’s better for you to seem concerned), like:”

“‘Brenda, the principal has told me to address my issue with being paired with Daniel with you, because if you can’t manage these issues on your own, he’s just going to shut the program down. Nothing has changed, and I’m really worried that the next time I go to the principal about this, he’s just going to pull the plug. Can we find a solution that meets everyone’s needs so that doesn’t happen?'”

“All of this should be said in a caring and open manner that insinuates that you’re making a good-faith effort to fix the problem and she’s the one causing the issue (because she is).”

“And if she suggests you just accept being paired with that one student, just keep repeating, ‘That solution doesn’t meet my needs,’ in a distressed but brave voice until she offers an actual solution.”

“Edited to Add: I’d also add something like, ‘Just because we both are physically disabled, you’re trying to separate us from the rest of the group by making us only work with each other,’ which is also true.” – Felixfell

“She is being a total bigot. There is no rational reason, and many good reasons, not to pair a Down Syndrome kid with someone who has mobility issues.”

“I definitely would go to war over it, including contacting lawyers, contacting an advocacy group for the mobility impaired, going to the school board, to the mayor’s office, or to the internet via Youtube or TikTok if it doesn’t stop. This is a form of segregation.” – Equivalent-Pay-6438

“Have you said in these exact words, DANIEL IS TAKING MY MOBILITY AIDS AWAY AND LAUGHING ABOUT IT. Will he still be laughing when you fall down and are injured? Or when there’s a fire, and you can’t get out?” – HippyGrrrl

“Tell her, ‘You are being ableist by disbelieving an individual’s ability to have a fully rounded personality. People who have Down syndrome are just as capable of being cruel as anyone else. If this continues the principal says they will just shut down the program.'”

“It’s not on you. The principal wants to close the program. It’s on the teacher.”

“And by the way, if they did close the program, they might get a new principal because that’s a dumb reason to pull a program!” – BrookeBaranoff

“OP, I wrote something up for you. Have your parents email if they are willing.”

“Please email the principal and break it down for him in a very specific way:”

“Email heading, ‘LACK OF ACTION REGARDING HARASSMENT REPORT,’ and openly CC it to the division above the principal. (Not sure in your country if it’s a county or some other agency).”

“Use bullet points:”

“1. I am being mentally and physically harassed by an older male in my class, and that harassment includes physical assault, and he takes my cane so I cannot remove myself from the situation.”

“2. I have informed my teacher (PUT TEACHER’S NAME HERE), and she claims that since the male student has Down Syndrome, he can‘t or would never act that way. She refuses to partner me with anyone else. We are the only two students with physical disabilities, and this is blatant ableism. She is in charge of the program, so I reached out to you, (PUT PRINCIPAL’S FULL NAME).”

“3. You, (PUT PRINCIPAL’S FULL NAME), refused to intervene and told me to deal with the teacher who has repeatedly refused to address the daily abuse.”

“4. This failure to act has negatively impacted my mental health and my ability to learn in a safe setting. I am in fear for my physical safety as this male student could physically injure me…”

“5. As I have informed my teacher, who is in charge of the special education program, and you, the principal of my school, and neither of you are taking this seriously, and expect me to continue to be paired with students every day, I am forced to forward a copy of this to your supervisors.”

“I look forward to you dealing with this dangerous situation immediately. I have the legal right to a safe learning environment.”

“(Signed) OP.”

“PS. All of my interactions and lack of action are being recorded should legal action be necessary.” – Capt-Sylvia-Killy

“Do you even need to be in this program? Are you academically able to complete the coursework in the mainstream school? If all you need is flexibility in scheduling, the school should be meeting your meets in the least restrictive way possible.”

“These programs often don’t have access to the same curriculum, so you shouldn’t be there unless absolutely necessary. Seek out a 504 form instead.” – Pear_tickle

The subReddit was appalled that the OP was having to deal with all of this, especially on her own, to prevent herself from being homeschooled full-time.

No student should be minimized down to a disability or any form of special need, and they should not be exclusively paired with someone who has a disability “just like theirs.” This is true for all students, but it’s especially true for someone like the OP, who was facing legitimate danger concerns.

Written by McKenzie Lynn Tozan

McKenzie Lynn Tozan has been a part of the George Takei family since 2019 when she wrote some of her favorite early pieces: Sesame Street introducing its first character who lived in foster care and Bruce Willis delivering a not-so-Die-Hard opening pitch at a Phillies game. She's gone on to write nearly 3,000 viral and trending stories for George Takei, Comic Sands, Percolately, and ÜberFacts. With an unstoppable love for the written word, she's also an avid reader, poet, and indie novelist.