MIDDLETOWN, Calif. (KTVU) - After several devastating fires, most notably the 2015 Valley Fire, Middletown is trying to regain its laid back, small-town lifestyle. But a controversy lighting up social media over a high school cheerleading squad has ruffled sensibilities far beyond the Lake County town.
Middletown native, Shelby Jose, 15, is going into its high school.
"Middletown has always been very welcoming of people with disabilities," said her mother Sabrina Jose. But, Shelby's mom says her special needs student is being discriminated against by the school.
When Jose wrote about it on her Facebook page, the post took off with more than a thousand comments from many people expressing anger, vitriol, venom, and disgust on both sides of a complex issue.
"When we saw this, we were surprised because it also wasn't accurate," said Middletown Unified School District Superintendent Catherine Stone.
Shelby has been a cheerleader for a non-school youth football league for the last four years. The high school placed Shelby, along with some other freshman girls, on the stadium cheer team, limited to home games only.
"She could not go to Anaheim, she couldn't go to away games and she couldn't ride the bus or a van," said Jose.
A cheering camp is held in Anaheim for high-level cheerleaders on the so-called "performance team."
"They had tryouts and she did not qualify along with a number of other girls who tried out. It's not just her," said Stone.
Since not enough girls signed up for the stadium cheer team, the school elevated Shelby to the cheerleading squad where members do ride the bus to away games.
But, Shelby's mom, a self-proclaimed, aggressive, long time, special needs advocate, ended up having words with the coach.
"Several phones calls included her telling me that in Georgia, they don't have really include someone like Shelby on the team," Jose said. "And I said, 'Well, this is California."
Ultimately, Jose withdrew her daughter from the junior varsity team.
"Yeah, I pulled my kid from the junior varsity team that she put her on because I don't want my child spending that much time with someone who is being forced to be around her," the mother said.
"That is not true for the coach. The coach welcomes all kids, likes all kids," said Stone. "She's one of our special education aides."
Some Facebook posts blamed the mother for using her disabled daughter for her own purposes. There were even allegations that Shelby wasn't included because the coach wants to win a state cheerleading title.
"I think she doesn't know what to do with Shelby," said Jose. However, the superintendent says, "We welcome these children and, in fact, we have some on our other teams, like our football team. We never want to be accused of not including all our kids. We're proud of our track record with that."
So far, Facebook seems to be the only winner.
"That is the problem with social media. you get a partial sign, you get a partial picture of something and it's human nature to say, 'Ahh, we have to defend people who are being mistreated,'" Stone said. "It becomes this big thing when it could have just been a conversation and taken care of.
Jose says she wants an apology from the school before any conversation begins.