CLERMONT COUNTY, OH (FOX19) - A West Clermont father is demanding change because he claims his daughter with special needs has become a target for discrimination.
Natalie Relthford, 12, has cerebral palsy and epilepsy, but her father, Allen Relthford, said she never lets it slow her down. In fact, he said she has always dreamed of becoming a cheerleader.
“She’s talked about it since elementary school," he said.
In May of this year, he said that his daughter’s wish became a reality. Though Natalie missed tryouts due to what he called an “oversight,” school leaders at West Clermont Middle School, Relthford said, told him his daughter would be on the team. He paid for her uniform, he said, and prepared her for practice.
“They said they would take this opportunity to embrace her and celebrate her," said Relthford.
In the summer, Relthford said that school officials went back on their word.
“After the coaches met her, they said they didn’t want to work with her because she was special needs, and they had no background in it," said Relthford.
Now, according to Relthford, Natalie is strictly a “squad supporter,” which means she is not an official member of the squad and is not held to the same standards or treated the same as the others on the team. Relthford expressed his concerns in a video on Facebook.
“I was kind of betrayed by that," Relthford said. "My daughter was promised one thing and was expecting this thing, and then they tried to take it from her.”
Relthford feels it is an act of discrimination that he said is making his daughter feel isolated and alone. On a small scale, Relthford said he just wants his daughter to be an official member of the football and basketball cheer teams. On a large scale, he wants the district to make a change.
“I want the district to start thinking about the children that are like her, coming into the district, growing up into the district, into these middle schools, there has to be something for them," said Relthford.
Relthford showed FOX19 an email that he received on Wednesday from a school official that informed him they are investigating his 21 allegations against the district. FOX19 NOW reached out to West Clermont school officials. They declined on-camera interviews, but confirmed the district is investigating Relthford’s allegations and offered this statement:
"Due to state and federal laws, we cannot speak to specifics regarding any particular student. As you report on this, you should be aware that you are only getting one side of the story.
At West Clermont, we have big hearts and work hard to provide opportunities for all of our students. Each student matters and the key to each student’s success are the caring teachers and staff who work with our students each day.
All students have an equal opportunity to be involved in our extra curricular activities. We will continue to assess what programs we offer and will possibly add additional programs based on the interests of our students."