Walmart apologizes after rejecting 9/11 kids' chorus
Walmart apologizes after a manager at one of its Florida stores calls kids' chorus a 'liability' and prevents them from singing 'God Bless America' on 9/11. Then the police are called. Walmart apologizes for 'miscommunication' and vows to make it up to kids.
PEMBROKE PINES, Fla.
On the 11th anniversary of 9/11, students from Coconut Palm Elementary in Miramar, Fla., showed up at a localÂ Walmart, clad in patriotic red, white and blue, to sing â€śGod Bless Americaâ€ť as part of a prearranged tribute.
The 75 young chorus members, ages 7 to 10, were born after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. But they had learned from their families and teachers the significance of the date and what their singing meant.
The groupâ€™s excitement turned to disappointment Tuesday evening when aÂ WalmartÂ representative refused to honor an agreement allowing the chorus to sing inside the store, according to Coconut Palm Elementary Principal Terri Thelmas.
In an attempt to â€śright a wrong,â€ť Thelmas said, school staff and parents led the singers outside the store, where they gathered under a nearby flag that was at half-staff. The children performed â€śGod Bless America.â€ť The group had headed to its cars when police showed up in response to a report of a â€śflash mob situation.â€ť
Wednesday evening, responding to complaints about the incident, aÂ WalmartÂ spokeswoman apologized on behalf of the company.
â€śWe regret this happened and apologize to the students, parents and the school for this experience,â€ť said the spokeswoman, Kayla Whaling, based in Bentonville, Ark. â€śUnfortunately, this was a situation of miscommunication, and it should have been handled differently.â€ť
She added, â€śWeâ€™re also inviting the kids back to the store to help honor the victims and fallen heroes.â€ť
The performance atÂ WalmartÂ had been arranged as part of a school-related â€śI Willâ€ť campaign, which encourages people to help a stranger and do a public service on 9/11, Thelmas said.
Music instructor Annie Conner and the students envisioned a â€śflash mobâ€ť performance atÂ Walmart, Thelmas said. In addition to remembering the victims, the act was meant to surprise and cheer up customers, Thelmas said.
Thelmas said that when she contacted the store last week, she was referred to a manager named Frank, who approved the in-store performance. But when the group showed up Tuesday night, Frank wasnâ€™t there, Thelmas said. Instead, anotherÂ WalmartÂ manager dismissed the idea, called the chorus â€śa liabilityâ€ť and turned the group away, Thelmas said. The employee added that Frank had been â€śfired,â€ť Thelmas said.
WalmartÂ declined to discuss details.
After Tuesdayâ€™s incident, parents took to Facebook to complain about the way they had been treated. Being turned away had brought some children to tears, given that the kids had practiced hard for the show.
â€śThe wind was taken out of everybodyâ€™s sails â€” from the parents to the teachers to the kids,â€ť said Michael DiScascio, 41, of Miramar, whose 9-year-old daughter was part of the chorus. â€śThere was a lot of confusion and disappointment.â€ť
DiScascioâ€™s fourth-grade daughter, Adrianna, had watched documentaries and visited a 9/11 memorial in New York this summer, DiScascio said.
â€śShe was really into the fact over what she was doing,â€ť DiScascio said. â€śOne of my wifeâ€™s friends passed away on 9/11.â€ť
When the children sang under the flag, their parents used cellphones to film the performance. It lasted little more than a minute and ended with cheers.
Pembroke Pines Officer Alex De La Paz said police were required to respond afterÂ WalmartÂ called in a complaint.
â€śSome of the officers felt that it wasnâ€™t a police issue,â€ť De La Paz said. Ultimately, no action was necessary because â€śall the kids were already in their cars,â€ť De La Paz said.
Whaling, theÂ WalmartÂ spokeswoman, saidÂ WalmartÂ plans to contact the school and arrange for the kids to come back. Thelmas said the school had not received the invitation by Wednesday evening, but that she would accept the opportunity.
â€śIâ€™m a bigger person, and I will accept an apology,â€ť Thelmas said. â€śI think we would do it in a heartbeat.â€ť
Thelmas said the schoolchildren would perhaps have an easier time forgivingÂ WalmartÂ than their parents. â€śI know the children, and they forgive easily,â€ť she said.