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Special Needs Director under fire after sharing 'insensitive' meme on social media

Posted: 5:11 PM, Nov 19, 2019
Updated: 2019-11-19 17:11:07-05
Mark Booth WEB.JPG

NOBLESVILLE — The special education director for Noblesville Schools is facing criticism after he shared a meme on his personal Facebook page that parents are calling "insensitive" to the students he's supposed to be representing.

The meme, which RTV6 will not be sharing because of its references, has a photo of President Trump and a caption that refers to him as "special needs."

Mark Booth shared the meme on his Facebook page sometime over the past two weeks, but it wasn't until parents saw it being shared, that it was brought to the school's attention.

Jaky Doke has a student in the special needs program at Noblesville Schools and she says the message Booth sends with a post like that is inappropriate for anyone, but especially someone in the position he has with the schools.

"My first thought was kinda shock, in a way," Doke said. "I totally assumed this would come from our director, but it shocked me that in his position that he’s in, a very high-level position and a representative for our special needs population, he would share a meme with that type of humor. Anything associated with special needs can be very sensitive."

Doke said she emailed the school about the post and the Superintendent Beth Niedermeyer sent a message to all parents with children in the program saying they were looking into the matter.

Parents of Students in Special Education — I want to personally connect with you regarding a situation I’d like to address. Several parents reached out to me to make me aware of a post by special education director Mark Booth that was circulating online. Mr. Booth had shared a “meme” that insulted President Trump, referencing special needs in a disappointing attempt at humor. The post was unacceptable and clearly exhibited a serious lack of judgment. Like others, I’m disappointed and concerned. I want to reassure you that Noblesville Schools is wholeheartedly committed to creating and maintaining a culture of respect and inclusion for all students and staff, and I’m proud of the long history we have of building strong relationships and inclusive opportunities for our students with special needs. Please be assured that I do not tolerate this behavior and have addressed it with a formal disciplinary action. I will also be closely monitoring the situation going forward. I’ve spoken with Mr. Booth and he understands his lack of judgment with this incident and the concern parents and staff may now have regarding his leadership. He will be reaching out to you himself on this subject. Don’t hesitate to contact me personally should you have any future concerns. Warmly, Dr. Beth Niedermeyer, Superintendent, Noblesville Schools

The school system also issued a statement Tuesday afternoon as well which read in part, "The post was unacceptable and clearly exhibited a serious lack of judgment. Superintendent Niedermeyer has personally addressed the situation with a formal disciplinary action and will also be closely monitoring activity going forward."

RTV6 has reached back out to Noblesville Schools to find out what that disciplinary action will be, although they have not responded yet at the time this story was written. It will be updated when we receive their response.

Booth also issued an apology to parents Tuesday evening.

"For almost 30 years, I've dedicated my life to advocating for students with disabilities, to ensure they have the same opportunities as other students in classrooms, programs and in the community. Because of my love for this special population, I have also adopted a son with a disability," Booth said in his apology to parents. "I ask that you judge me overall not on this regrettable incident, but on my many years of dedication to our students on behalf of the special education community."

Doke and other parents we spoke to say they appreciate the apology, but it isn't enough. They say they want to see action from the school district with real consequences.

“This is a man who is supposed to represent our student and our special needs population,” Doke said. "If we’re holding our students accountable… how do we hold them accountable. When it comes to employees I want to know what that looks like."

Until they get a response from the school system they say they will continue to speak out and be the voice of their children.

“Our special needs kids aren’t understood already, so when memes and things like this are an attempt at making a joke, it is a failed attempt — the message that’s coming across in that meme is pretty appalling and for our director to not understand that immediately, that’s very concerning," Doke said. “Many of our students cannot speak for themselves, can not look out for themselves, cannot advocate for themselves, so we have to do that."

You can read Mark Booth's full message to parents with children in the special needs program at Noblesville Schools below:

Parents of Students in Special Education — I am writing to ask for your forgiveness. I recently shared a “meme” that someone created online that insulted President Trump, referencing special needs in a disrespectful and inappropriate manner. I'm embarrassed by this lapse in my judgment, as this meme does not reflect my heart and life mission of respectfully and compassionately serving students with special needs. It also does not reflect personal content I typically share online, which is focused on inspirational quotes, my family and my deep faith in God. For almost 30 years, I've dedicated my life to advocating for students with disabilities, to ensure they have the same opportunities as other students in classrooms, programs and in the community. Because of my love for this special population, I have also adopted a son with a disability. I recognize that this incident may have eroded your confidence in me as a leader and I'm committed to working to earn back your trust. I spend a day every month meeting with parents of students with disabilities and supporting them in advocating for their children. I also spend several days each month in all 10 of our schools meeting with teachers and building leaders, answering questions about special education, and making sure that our staff does what is needed to help students with disabilities. I want you to know that I take full responsibility for what I have done. I am willing to share my life mission with anyone at any time. You are welcome to join me in future outreach opportunities so that I can address concerns you may have and demonstrate my commitment to respect and inclusion. I will notify you regarding specifics of our next meetings. I ask that you judge me overall not on this regrettable incident, but on my many years of dedication to our students on behalf of the special education community. Thank you for your grace and for the privilege of serving you and your children.

The full statement released by Noblesville Schools to RTV6 Tuesday afternoon reads:

We recently became aware of a “meme” our special education director shared online that insulted President Trump, referencing special needs in a disappointing attempt at humor. The post was unacceptable and clearly exhibited a serious lack of judgment. Superintendent Niedermeyer has personally addressed the situation with a formal disciplinary action and will also be closely monitoring activity going forward. Noblesville Schools is wholeheartedly committed to creating and maintaining a culture of respect and inclusion for all students and staff, and has a long history of building strong relationships and inclusive opportunities for our students with special needs.