Ripley, Tennessee (NBC)(12/18/19)— A group of special needs students were allegedly told by an employee at a Pizza Hut in Ripley, Tennessee, to hurry up to make way for “regular” customers.
Heather Bensch, whose 18-year-old daughter was among 20 or so Halls High School students attending a party at the restaurant Friday afternoon, wrote about the episode in a now viral Facebook post.
Bensch and other parents said they learned about the incident from a teacher who was present.
“So McKaela’s class went to Pizza Hut in Ripley today, and were not treated like ‘regular’ people,” Bensch wrote. “So glad I wasn’t there, but also wish that I was!”
A teacher who was with the group told CBS affiliate WREG-TV in Memphis: “They kept rushing us because their ‘regular’ group of people was coming in, whatever that was supposed to mean.”
Bensch told NBC News she is among the parents and community members who have submitted formal complaints to Pizza Hut.
“The store knew beforehand which particular group was coming by way of reservation, which tells me that this was not a misunderstanding, but rather this particular Pizza Hut’s reputation of discrimination coming to light,” she said.
Bensch asked in her Facebook post that Pizza Hut “please define” who a “regular” person is and explain why the children weren’t given the “service that anyone else would receive.”
“These kids could teach you a little something about work ethic, compassion, and humanity!!!! Everyday of their lives, they give 110% just to keep up with, and be a part of this world,” Bensch wrote in her post.
A manager at the Pizza Hut told NBC News Tuesday that he was not authorized to comment on the company’s behalf. A spokesman for the company said it was aware of the concerns that were raised and in no way does it reflect Pizza Hut’s “standard of serving the community and providing every guest with excellent service.”
“Our local franchisee has been in contact with the school principal and superintendent to offer our apologies to the students and teachers and will be meeting with them this week,” the spokesman told NBC News in a statement. “Restaurant management will also be reinforcing our expectations with employees at the store to ensure that our standards of service are upheld going forward.”
The spokesman also said Pizza Hut hopes to welcome the class back to the restaurant soon.
Bensch said an apology alone isn’t enough.
“The apology should’ve been given right on the spot to those that were there, and after the fact to the parents, as well as initial responsibility taken for what happened,” she said.
Keith Duncan, whose 18-year-old stepdaughter also attended the party in West Tennessee, told NBC News Tuesday that he believed the incident could have been handled more professionally.
“It didn’t surprise me, it’s just how the world works these days,” said Duncan, who was not at the restaurant with the group. He also said he believes those who made the alleged comments should be held accountable.
Lauderdale County Schools Superintendent Shawn Kimble told NBC News that he is investigating the incident, including getting more details from those who were present.
“We have had some conversation with Pizza Hut but we have not arrived at any kind of resolution,” Kimble said.
The superintendent said he has spoken to a regional manager for Pizza Hut who “has indicated they are very sorry for the incident and that they are willing to make things right.”
Kimble commended the teachers at the restaurant for “insulating the students” from the alleged remarks.
“They did a good job of making sure the students weren’t made to feel a type of way,” he said. “Only a couple of students heard the comments.”
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