Local dance studio denies girl with Down Syndrome, says family

LANCASTER, N.Y. (WIVB) — At her heart, Anna Winnicki is a dancer. She twirls, she dips, and she laughs – heartily.

She’s been doing all of it for six of her eight years.

In that time, Anna and her family have been fortunate to avoid instances of discrimination like they say they experienced Tuesday.

“Anna brings a smile to everyone’s face that she meets,” said her mother, Tricia. “She’ll walk up to people and say, ‘Hi my name is Anna.’ She’ll call them her friend. She’s an amazing reader. She’s a good sister to her brother and her sister. She’s brought a lot of joy to our family. Of course, there are a lot of challenges, but the joys outweigh the challenges.”

Tricia and Jason Winnicki on Tuesday tried to enroll Anna, who has Down Syndrome, in a local dance class. However, the studio owner told them “No”.

“He told me, ‘I really don’t think we would be comfortable with that,’ ” Tricia said. “We don’t have any way to manage her in our studios. There are special schools for people like her, and she should go find those schools.”

Tricia and Jason, who both work in education, were stunned.

“That’s not okay,” Jason said. “She’s a kid. Everyone should get the same chance to try things and to be a part of things. Whether that’s dancing with her, whether that’s playing soccer, whether it’s going to school or trying to get a job, it shouldn’t matter about a disability. It should be about let’s let people try. Let’s help them be successful.”

It also forced them into a situation they’ve never faced.

“It makes you realize that you have to express to someone your child’s disability and see if they will accept them,” Tricia said. “And that was just a really horrible thing. Anna has always been accepted everywhere, you know, at the grocery store, at the library, when are walking down the sidewalk, there’s big smiles from everyone. And to have someone on the other line to say, keep your daughter where she is, she needs to be managed, is a horrible feeling.”

News 4 is withholding the name of the local dance studio because they couldn’t be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, Tricia, Jason and Anna will be re-enrolling at the dance studio where she’s spent the past few years, Center Stage. It’s one they say is inclusive, where Anna can continue her passion for dance.

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