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Public pressure puts Tumwater teen with special needs back in Lakefair competition

After public backlash, the Capital Lakefair board extended their "deepest and most sincere apologies" to Abigail and allowed her back in the competition.

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Abigail Vandenberg-Flodstrom has been told, “No,” her entire life.

It happened again this month to the 16-year-old Tumwater girl who has a developmental delay, according to her mother, Vanessa Ofte.

In December, classmates of Vandenberg-Flodstrom’s at Black Hills High School elected to have her represent the school in the Capital Lakefair competition, a longtime scholarship program offered to Thurston County teens.

But last week, Abigail’s mother was told her daughter would not be allowed to participate.

“There were concerns she wouldn’t be able to fill all the roles that a princess would be required because of her disabilities,” said Ofte.

Ofte was upset. She said her daughter has the physical and mental abilities to represent her school. Ofte posted her thoughts online triggering an outpouring of support.

Her post was shared more than 2,500 times on Facebook within days.

Late Monday, the Lakefair board reversed course, allowing Abigail back in the competition.

In a written statement posted online, the Lakefair board said, “We, the Capital Lakefair Board of Directors, Officers, and Capitalarians would like to offer our deepest and most sincere apology for the harm that we have caused to Abigail, her family, Black Hills High School, and our greater community and for bringing to our attention the fallibilities in our process.”

“This was new territory for us,” said Lakefair President Karen Adams-Griggs.

Adams-Griggs said they have had participants with special needs in past competitions, but Abigail’s case is different.

She said Abigail’s transcript did not have letter grades, her mother helped write and transcribe the essay, and Adams-Griggs said she had concerns Abigail would be able to fulfill all the duties of the court, which involves all-day charity events, speaking engagements, and participating in parades across the state.

Adams-Griggs said after public pressure, the board decided to let Abigail back in the process of making the court.

“If we did not do this, it would kill the festival,” said Lakefair Vice President Ken Ringering.

“It might have already,” added Adams-Griggs.

Tuesday the City of Olympia denied a $25,000 grant request from Capital Lakefair, with council members citing Lakefair’s initial decision not to let Abigail participate.

A city spokesperson said council members are open to reconsidering the funding request.

“They are interested in having a conversation with the Lakefair board about their decision, their processes and their values,” said city spokesperson Kellie Purce Braseth.

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