Social media, blog posts exaggerate Portage homecoming story

2013-09-20T17:30:00Z 2013-09-21T22:48:06Z Social media, blog posts exaggerate Portage homecoming storyJoyce Russell, (219) 762-1397, ext. 2222

PORTAGE | Amy Aldrich wants her daughter Mackenzie to have the time of her life next week, serving on the Portage High School's homecoming court.

Aldrich has been shielding the young girl from what started as a positive highlight of her life and turned into a negative battle of sometimes nasty words on social media.

Aldrich received a call Thursday morning from her daughter's teacher. Mackenzie, who is autistic and moderately mentally handicapped, had won a place on the homecoming court and has a chance to be crowned homecoming queen.

Aldrich said the teacher asked her if she thought it would be OK for Mackenzie to fulfill the honor.

"I was upset at the call at first. She wasn't as excited as we were," Aldrich said Friday.

A friend of Aldrich posted information about the call on Facebook. Aldrich said that post was factual, but it led to additional posts, accusing the school of being heartless and discriminating against Mackenzie. That turned into a story on a web-based publication, which Aldrich said never bothered to call her or school officials to check the facts before posting the story.

The issue, she said, steamrolled and was blown out of proportion. She spent much of Thursday and Friday fielding telephone calls.

And, she said, it took away the positive attention from not only Mackenzie, but from the other four girls named to the court.

"I know the teacher called out of concern. Her heart was in the right place," said Aldrich, who also met Friday afternoon with Portage Township Schools Superintendent E. Ric Frataccia. "They never told us she could not be a part of the homecoming court. I feel bad the teacher is being attacked because of this."

PHS Principal Caren Swickard said she asked the teacher to place the call.

"I thought we needed to give the Aldrich family a heads-up, a courtesy communication," said Swickard, adding that Mackenzie was nominated to the court by a group of peer tutors who did so with good intentions.

The call to the Aldrich family, she said, was to explain the logistics of the week and to make sure the nomination was OK with the family before Mackenzie's name was announced later in the day at school.

"We want her to be able to participate, and we want it to go smooth. It wasn't meant to say she can't do these things. It was more of a, 'Let's talk about this and let's go through some things,'" Swickard said. "If that communication was not as positive as it could have been, we apologize for that."

By Friday afternoon both the original Facebook posts and the web-based story had been taken down.

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