Mariela Azarpira flipped through the glossy pages of her son’s black yearbook with one thought on her mind. “Where is Sammy?” Azarpira carefully combed through the yearbook, page by page, hoping to find some trace of her son.
Her son Samir, a special needs student at the Las Vegas high school where she worked until last month, was not mentioned once in the yearbook’s 186 pages. Samir and his pals were all enrolled in a special program at Northwest Career and Technical Academy, but she didn’t see any of them.
“It’s like he didn’t exist, not even his name,” Azarpira said. “Come on, you couldn’t mention them? You couldn’t give him a little corner?” She sobbed as she flipped through the yearbook again the next day, hoping against hope that she’d missed anything. However, she still hadn’t seen any pictures of Samir.
Azarpira determined the school had “messed with the wrong mama bear” and wrote to a local TV channel to draw attention to the exclusion, which she said “completely outcast” pupils with special needs. According to a statement released by the Clark County School District, the yearbook contains mostly ninth- through twelfth-graders.
The below tweet verifies the news:
“It’s like he didn’t exist, not even his name,” Azarpira said. “Come on, you couldn’t mention them? You couldn’t give him a little corner?” https://t.co/DPuErTZaUt
— Linda Hill (@bulldoghill) June 8, 2023
Now, the school is “reviewing the yearbook layout for future years to consider the addition of members of the school community enrolled in pre- or post-graduation programs on campus,” the spokesman said.
Samir, who was born with hydrocephalus, a disease in which fluid builds up in the brain, completed high school in California in 2019 and then moved to Nevada with his family the following year. He enrolled at Northwest Career and Technical Academy that same year.
PACE, or the Program Approach to Career Employment, helps recent high school grads with disabilities get ready for jobs in the workforce and is financed by the federal government. According to his mother, Samir made friends easily in the program and rarely missed classes.
To fulfill the requirements of the PACE student-work program, he worked once a week at a local Goodwill. Samir expects to graduate from the course this coming summer. So when Azarpira’s son was graduating from high school that year, she knew she had to get a yearbook as a memento.
After receiving the email, she joked that she might be the first parent to order a yearbook. Azarpira’s husband picked up their son’s yearbook on May 19. Azarpira hid the yearbook from view by covering it with a stack of papers on her desk after she found out Samir wasn’t included.
She explained that she didn’t want to disappoint Samir by telling him there are no images of him or his buddies because he enjoys looking at pictures. “Honestly, it broke my heart,” Azarpira said.
Azarpira assumed that the yearbook would have included photos of Samir and his classmates doing things like volunteering at Goodwill, bringing coffee to teachers’ classrooms in a cart, and taking cooking classes. The next day, she secretly took the book from her desk and read through it once more.
As she continued to read without seeing any references to them, the burden in her chest increased. When she reached the final page of the book listing all the students, she checked it again, this time beginning with the letter “A” for their last name, in case he was listed under Amer, and then the letter “S,” in case he was listed under Samir.
She tried doing the same thing with the names of his closest pals, but to no avail. She followed up her initial call to the news station with an email to school personnel. If Azarpira returned the yearbook, the school would give her a refund. She said no and that the price tag of around $90 wasn’t an issue.
“I just want them to put all the kids equally,” Azarpira stated in an email response. “They are students and part of the school.” “I just want them to put all the kids equally,” Azarpira wrote in an email response, “they are students and part of the school.”
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Azarpira has numerous pictures of Samir and even refers to herself as “paparazzi.” The walls of his family’s house are covered with white-framed pictures of him and his siblings. In addition, she has countless photos and videos of her son and his pals stored on her phone.
However, she is lacking pictures from his senior year. “They took that away from me, those memories,” Azarpira said. While she is sad that her son will miss out on getting another yearbook, she is optimistic that next year’s special education students will be able to write “a different story.” “You’re going to see that they’re going to be in there,” she said.
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