MONTICELLO, Minn. - Spring break this week means many families are hitting indoor pools for an escape. A Clearwater mother claims her family's spring break did not go as planned after some staff members at the Monticello Community Center discriminated against her disabled son, even though the center management sees the situation differently.
"Jeremiah will be 12 years old in June and I can honestly say I have never ever felt the way I felt yesterday," said Hatti Edwards.
Her son Jeremiah was born premature and as a result suffered profound disabilities that include cerebral palsy, blindness, deafness, lung disease and a seizure disorder. He mostly relies on a wheelchair to get around. Edwards says Jeremiah loves being in the water and uses a special needs flotation device, called a Water Walker, which helps him stay upright and independent.
Edwards says lifeguards at the pool told her that her son's device was blocking the way for kids to get by on a day the pool was crowded during spring break.
"Their reasoning was that other children couldn't use floaties, so why should he?" said Edwards.
She said her family then moved to a deeper, more secluded area of the pool away from the crowds.
Monticello Community Center Director Kitty Baltos said the center always strives to be inclusive and ensure that everyone has a good experience, and stressed that she tried to accommodate Edwards' needs.
Edwards disagrees with Baltos, and took her complaints public, to Facebook and to city leaders.
"She said, we are just so busy, we can't have him in here, and I said, well, I understand that but this is the only way he can be in the pool. We can't hold onto him all the time," said Edwards.
"If, in this circumstance, we fell short of their expectations we hope that we can learn from this experience so that we can do better in the future," said Baltos.
Monticello mayor Clint Herbst called Edwards' claims an opportunity to learn. He invited the family back to the community center to educate the staff on how to better accommodate people with disabilities.
Edwards plans to take the mayor up on his offer.
"It could have been an incredible learning experience for the staff and the other families that were there," said Edwards. "I have never shied away from being my son's advocate, fighting for what is right for my son. Whether with the doctors or what happened yesterday, it is about sharing his story and being his voice - doing what I would want to do if I was him."
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