An Internet discussion has been stirred up in Middleburgh and beyond by the YouTube video of a 21-year-old woman defending her disabled brother, who she claims is being treated unfairly by the Middleburgh Central School District.
“What I’m asking for is help and support for my little brother,” Amberlee Todd said in an emotional plea from her dorm room at SUNY Brockport that she posted to the Internet on Friday and distributed to local media a day later.
Amberlee’s concerns revolve around her 18-year-old brother, Chris, who suffers from spina bifida, a birth defect that has left him paralyzed on his left side and weakened his leg muscles. According to the family, Chris also has trouble processing emotions on par with his peers.
In the video, Amberlee claims a variety of incidents of bullying by school officials and students over the last three years. He is now in his senior year.
The video was posted on the district’s Facebook page but pulled down because it addresses a specific student, according to a note posted on the page.
That hasn’t stopped people from watching the video, which had been viewed more than 800 times as of early Saturday evening, or talking about it. A few dozen comments popped up on YouTube and other Facebook pages, with some people referencing their own battles with bullying, others voicing their support for the Todd family and some recommending remedies.
On a Facebook forum discussing district issues, commenters demanded a response from district officials and expressed anger on behalf of the Todd family.
District Superintendent Michele Weaver wouldn’t comment on Chris’ case specifically because of confidentiality issues, but in a statement to the Gazette said it is a very complicated problem.
“The district is working with the family on an ongoing basis in the best interest of the student,” Weaver wrote.
Amberlee also claims in her video that the district is trying to remove Chris from the high school in a dispute over residency.
According to the family, in February 2011, during Chris’ sophomore year, he and his mother, Sue, fled their Middleburgh home because of threats to their safety. He was allowed to stay in the school while they lived outside the district because of protections in the federal McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act. A few months later, in late August, flooding caused but Tropical Storm Irene left their Middleburgh house uninhabitable when they had planned on returning.
One year later, the Todd family is still unable to return and has now lived in Sloansville for the past 18 months, which prompted school officials to determine they had a new permanent residence and Chris shouldn’t be allowed to finish his senior year in Middleburgh, according to the family. The family is in the process of appealing this decision, and Sue says she feels they’re being singled out and not treated with any compassion.
Amberlee desperately wants her brother to remain in Middleburgh.
“His [special education] program is in Middleburgh, and we want him to go there,” she said Saturday, noting how much her brother has developed under the tutelage of special education teacher Tim Pangman.
Sue said Saturday the district isn’t responding appropriately or in the best interest of Chris by disrupting a routine that has been working for him.
“Everything is washed under the doors,” she said.
Weaver would not comment on this concern, but added that all the facts have not been made clear to the public. She wouldn’t elaborate on that remark, however.
Sue, who hasn’t seen the video, isn’t surprised by her daughter’s actions.
“She is awesome with her brother,” she said of her daughter.
For her part, though, Amberlee worries she isn’t doing enough to help.
“I feel so bad because I’m in school,” she said in the video, “and I’m not there to help my brother with this issue.”
The video is titled “School bullies disable child” and can be found at www.youtube.com.