Support For Teen Moves Fair Board To Change Ruling
By Dave Reynolds, Inclusion Daily Express
January 17, 2003
LAKE WALES, FLORIDA--Following a week of intense community opposition, the Polk County Youth Fair board decided Thursday to let Justin Ryan Kelley show his pig, "Bacon", at an upcoming swine event.
Justin, 17, was told December 20 that he would not be able to participate in the Youth Fair this March because he has cerebral palsy and uses a walker and a wheelchair. The board said that his disability created "liability concerns", that he might get injured during the event.
His father pointed out that Justin, a high school senior, has been involved in Future Farmers of American (FFA) since he was a freshman, has been an important member of the steer-judging team and has been involved in other activities through his school's agricultural program. He has never been hurt during such an event.
After area newspapers and television stations ran the story last week, Justin's situation caught the attention of the general public, along with local, state, and federal officials.
Newspaper offices were overwhelmed by feedback supporting Justin and condemning the board.
Several students threatened to pull their pigs from the event if Justin wasn't allowed to show his.
According to local news sources, Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist sent the board's chairman a memo explaining that "the Youth Fair board would be in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act if they did not let Justin participate." The memo added that Crist's office "would become involved only if action was not taken to correct the situation."
Congressman Adam Putnam, State Representative Baxter Troutman and State Agriculture Commissioner Charles Bronson all spoke up in Justin's defense.
County Commission Chairman Randy Wilkinson offered his support, telling Justin, "You're not the first case of this."
After two private meetings, the board announced its decision to let Justin participate.
"They did the right thing," Justin said later Thursday. "I just wish they had done it a little quicker."