UPDATE: With help from community, JEFCOED finds location for Exceptional Prom, sets date & time

Parents concerned special needs prom may not happen
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 7:29 AM CDT|Updated: Apr. 29, 2022 at 2:26 PM CDT
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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Ala. (WBRC) - UPDATE: Officials with the Jefferson County School District announced Friday, April 29, that a date and time have been set for the 2022 Exceptional Prom.

The event will be held Thursday, May 19, 2022 at the Finley Center in Hoover from 9 a.m. until 1 p.m.

Officials say the event is being made possible in large part through the kindness of Jefferson County residents. After learning the usual location for the prom would be unavailable this year, Hoover City Councilman Mike Shaw reached out to the school system to see if he could help. After a discussion, it was determined the Finley Center in Hoover would be the best place for the event.

“When I heard about the situation I knew we had to do something to help. My son just had a great prom the week before at his school, so I was sad to think these kids might not get to have the same experience. I called Mayor Brocato and he agreed,” said Shaw. “I’m so glad we were able to work together with Jefferson County Schools to come up with a solution for these kids! All kids deserve a great prom!”

“This is a world-class venue that anyone would be grateful to use. I cannot thank the city of Hoover and its leadership enough for giving us the use of this facility. Welcoming our students with open arms is an amazing gesture,” said Dr. Walter Gonsoulin, Superintendent of Jefferson County Schools.

Officials say M. Elizabeth Events also stepped up to help with food and decorations.

“After almost two years of some dark days, we wanted to celebrate a new season, and be part of bringing someone joy. Our business made it through the pandemic with a lot of encouragement from friends and clients - people who truly lifted our spirits and urged us to continue moving forward despite circumstances,” said Meghan Cease, owner, and principal planner. “It was strongly laid on my heart to help. This is my opportunity to bring joy to so many hearts, to lift the spirits of students.”

Other groups also reached out to the county to offer funds to help make sure the event happened this year. The school system says between the Birmingham Civitan Club, Gardendale Civitan Club, Hearts of Horizons Civitan Club, Perimeter Civitan Club, Vestavia Civitan Club, and ACTION Civitan Club, more than $1,600 was raised in just two days.

The system says the event is held each year for students in self-contained exceptional education classes in JEFCOED high schools.

Parents should look for invitations to come early next week. Students will be picked up at their home by bus, taken to the prom, and returned to school by the end of the school day on May 19.

ORIGINAL: Jeffco parents plead to the community to help host special needs prom, school board having trouble finding venue

A Jefferson County schools tradition of more than 20 years old could be in jeopardy. Several parents are worried the special needs prom may not happen this year and they want to know why.

It’s a tough, emotional situation that the parents and school leadership tell WBRC they are both vowing to rectify.

“It’s just as important to them as it is every other typical child,” parent Tammie Fields sighs.

Fields has two special needs children and says she looks forward to sharing prom day with them but she heard from other parents that the exceptional education students in Jefferson County may not have their own prom in 2022.

Another parent tells us she got the news from her child’s teacher.

Fields says she’s heard several reasons why the event isn’t happening from budgets to venues.

“If it’s costs, let us help. Let us try to gather the community together and do something about it,” Fields pleads to Jefferson County School’s leadership.

The Jefferson County Superintendent, Dr. Walter Gounslin, sent WBRC this statement:

“In the past, the prom for our exceptional education students has been funded through donations. The school system has never paid for this event. The venue we have used in the past, which donated the use of their facility, is not able to accommodate us this year. For months, we have looked for other venues and even looked at the possibility of paying to use one. Unfortunately, many of the venues also have rules that would prohibit us from bringing in our own food, which also has been donated in the past. I do want to say I am open to the possibility of exploring new ideas about how we can have some type of prom this year. The event might not look exactly like it did in the past but, I think we all need to put our heads together and talk about the possibilities. I am certainly open to that. To be clear, the idea that the school system doesn’t want to do this event is just not true. We desperately want to provide this event to our exceptional education students. I am sorry if there has been any confusion among parents and students about this situation. In the future, if parents have questions, I would encourage them to reach out directly to my office.”

- Dr. Walter Gonsoulin, Superintendent

Gounslin adds that the event has not been canceled but that finding a venue that can accommodate 500 attendees for a dance and lunch has been difficult.

He also explains that county schools do not have the space for the event, especially since it’s held during the school day.

Fields says she along with other parents are hoping speaking out will spur the community to help.

“It’s a wonderful thing to get to see them have the fun that all the other children get to have. To be treated normal,” Fields said. “I love my kids. I want them to have the opportunities that other children have.”

Dr. Gounslin says he is open to conversations with parents to find a solution.

In an updated response to our coverage on Facebook Dr. Gounslin said the following:

“Good afternoon everyone. Please note that we are working and planning to have a prom for our children with special needs. When the final plans are made, we will release the information. Thanks for all of the support and encouragement.” - Dr. Walter Gonsoulin

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