Speaking with a little sass and a lot of passion, "Glee" actress Lauren Potter stole the show when she joined forces with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to say "enough is enough" to bullying special-needs children.
"I was a victim of bullying," said Miss Potter, who has Down syndrome and portrays cheerleader Becky Jackson the hit Fox television series. "When I was in my old school, a group of boys starting teasing me and calling me names."
Forcing back tears, Miss Potter said that this incident was not uncommon when she was in school, and that the other students "thought it was OK, just because I looked different than they did."
"They didnt think they would get in trouble because I was just a Down's girl," she said. "But this Down's girl spoke up, and told those boys that called me names to grow up. Everyone seemed shocked."
Miss Potter, 20, was on Capitol Hill to help mark the release of "Walk a Mile In Their Shoes," a new report on bullying of special-needs children.
Rep. Jackie Speier, California Democrat, described the report as a call to action.
"This type of bullying has fallen under the radar screen for far too long," she said. "For special-needs students who already face tremendous challenges, adding this extra burden is fundamentally unacceptable."
Ms. Speier said that she plans to introduce legislation that would require federally funded schools to report the number of incidents regarding bullying, and whether those incidents included students with special needs.
Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, Washington Republican, said that she was speaking as the proud mother of a 4-year-old Down syndrome boy "who just happened to be born with that extra 21st chromosome."
She said that she was grateful for the community that opened its arms to her when her son was born, and believes there are more opportunities for her son than ever.
"Having said that, theres still more work for us to do," she said. "I consider myself having had that baton passed onto me, that now I need to do my part to continue to improve the opportunities for those that are born with disabilities, to recognize that they have so much to offer."
The briefing showed video footage of an incident involving Ismail Clayton, a Maryland eighth grader who was often bullied because of his Aspergers syndrome, a form of autism. In the video, Ismails classmates shout insults at him while he cowers in a corner of the classroom.
"How would you feel if you were teased, bullied?" he cries out in the video. "I feel that way. I feel sad and miserable because people are bothering me all my life ever since preschool!"
This video had been taken by a fellow eighth-grader at Windsor Mill Middle School in Baltimore County and posted on YouTube for other students to watch. A substitute teacher had been present during the incident, but despite his attempts to control the rowdy class, the torments worsened.
A report was never made to the school administration and the Clayton family discovered the YouTube video the following week.
Ismails father, Kyle Clayton, said that his son is usually accompanied by a classroom aide, but on that particular day the aide was out sick.
"Everybody has someone with a disability, everybody has someone whos been bullied," said Mr. Clayton. "Enough is enough for my son, for any other son and any other daughter. Rules need to be implemented in schools the way they are implemented in the professional workplace, where there is zero tolerance for any kind of oppression, any kind of bullying."
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