Saturday, May 24, 2008

Not Special: Support Alex Barton

Alex Barton is five years old. On Wednesday, his kindergarten teacher decided to teach her class a bit about bigotry and exclusion. Unfortunately, she seems to have been for rather than against these principles. Wendy Portillo invited the members of Alex's class to state the reasons they did not like him. Then a vote was taken. By a vote of 14 to 2, Barton was removed from the class.

Since his "eviction" from the St. Lucie Co. (Florida) class he has felt "sad" and has repeated the words, "I'm not special," over and over to himself. The reasons students gave for disliking Alex included that he is "disgusting" and "annoying." Since February, the young man has been in the process of being evaluated for Asperger syndrome.
Let me be clear: I don't care whether or not Alex is assigned a diagnostic label. I don't care what he did to be classified as "disgusting." The behavior of this teacher is reprehensible. She has not disputed the allegation, but according to Port St. Lucie spokeswoman Michelle Steele, has confirmed that the incident did take place.
Please help ensure that proper disciplinary action is taken. People with differences of all sorts deal with bullying from peers every day. It is no secret to many of us that teachers and others in authority can be bullies, too. But when the bullying is directed and produced by a so-called educator, surely this must cross a line visible to all. Please take a stand against this abuse. If you have a blog, please write a little something in support of Alex Barton. Maybe he isn't special. He shouldn't have to be. He's a five year old boy, a human being, worthy of respect.

Write the St. Lucie County School Board at
webmastr@stlucie.k12.fl.us

The school's principal is Marcia Cully: (772)337-6730

Edit: A more complete list of contact information, gathered by Ari Ne'eman of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN):

Morningside Elementary School Principal: Mrs. Marcia Cully cullym@stlucie.k12.fl.us (772) 337-6730St.

Lucie County Schools Superintendent: Michael J. Lannon4204 Okeechobee Road Ft. Pierce 34947-5414 Phone: 772/429-3925 FAX: 772/429-3916 e-mail: lannonm@stlucie.k12.fl.us

St. Lucie County School Board Chair: Carol Hilson 772-519-0397 HilsonC@stlucie.k12.fl.us

Vice Chair:Judith Miller772-528-4545 MillerJ@stlucie.k12.fl.us

Please copy info@autisticadvocacy.org on any emails you send. ASAN asks that everyone use respectful language in addressing those listed.

Edit: Please visit this post at Autistic Nation. Christschool has provided form letters which can be used to address the school's principal, superintendent, school board chairperson, state's attorney, Department of Education and news media. Each letter details the legan and ethical violations commited, and calls for the resignation or dismissal of Wendy Portillo. The letters can be modified to make a more personal statement reflective of your own views.

Thanks to Amanda at Ballastexistenz where I first learned of this.

Edit: Why I closed the comments to this post.

Edit: An address (thanks for this to abfh) to send a card, letter or gift for Alex:

Alex is Special

c/o Barbara Curtis

15648 Britenbush Ct.

Waterford, VA 20197

Edit (May 28): Now you can send a supportive message to Alex at supportalex@treasurecoast.com

Edit (May 29): More details from the police report are available now, including this from Melissa Barton:

She told the officer that after she talked with Portillo about the voting, Portillo "blocked the door for about five minutes to prevent me from leaving the classroom with my child, who was visibly shaken by the abuse."

Read more here.

Edit (May 30): Read commentary by Christschool on the police report here.

32 comments:

  1. Crazy, but I can't say I'm surprised. This teacher always had something against him, he probably answered a rhetorical question or didn't make eye contact, and she decided, since its autistic season, she'd get rid of this pain. We'll be hearing about the toils of this teacher and how she was pushed to the breaking point soon.

    What I want to know is, who are the 2 kids who stood up for him? How long will they last?

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  2. I am horrified.

    I have already written the school board...maybe we should all leave that principal a voice mail over the weekend?

    karen in ca

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  3. Poor little lad :(. The teacher is absolutely repugnant.

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  4. Thanks again for the heads up. I'll be blogging about this too. As a mom, I keep thinking, not only about this poor little boy, but also about his mom and how heartbroken she must be to see her son hurting. I have tears in my eyes and I don't even know this little boy.

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  5. I am speechless. SPEECHLESS.

    I read one article that she tried to turn the boy's visit to the principle into a "teaching moment" with the vote - they were learning about tallying.

    I would yank both of my kids out of that school.

    WHAT IS WRONG WITH PEOPLE!!!!!

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  6. An adult who is on the spectrumMay 24, 2008 at 7:20 PM

    Let me get this straight ... the entire purpose of this farce was to teach the students about bigotry and exclusion?


    What was the point of this teacher's exercise? To teach students how to do it the right way?


    God forbid they never learn how to be bigots and --gasp -- accept people who are different than they are.


    Regardless of what noble intention this teacher may claim she had (and this post is the first I've heard of it) the fact remains that she singled this boy out and deliberately made him a target for abuse by his entire class. This is completely inexcusable.


    When I was a child I was mercilessly bullied by everyone in my school. There was no autism "spectrum" and so I remained undiagnosed until almost one year ago, now well into adulthood.


    My situation was bad enough but at least I could count on the figures of authority believing this behavior to be wrong -- even though they were largely impotent in the greater scheme of things.

    But the situation in this school district is in my opinion far worse because the teacher is the instigating bully. She ought to be ashamed of herself.

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  7. adult on the spectrum,

    I have no idea what her intention was other than to express her own dislike of the student. I was attempting sarcasm by saying there was a "lesson" in it. I see how that could easily be interpreted differently. Whatever her intention, as you note, she was dead wrong and should be ashamed of herself.

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  8. As an educator, I am horrified by this teacher's actions. Anyone who thinks it is appropriate to utilize such techniques in a classroom of children should really consider other career options.

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  9. I am an adult with Aspergers. I think this teacher's behaviour is not only repungent, but also 'disgusting' and 'annoying' and I liken it to the behaviour that of Hitler and his regime of Nazi's - whom are so low that they don't even deserve to be spelt with a capital letter.

    That poor, poor boy. I just want to wrap him in my arms so the both of us can cry. I want to stroke his hair and wipe his tears away and tell him just how special and unique he really is. We all are.

    Too bad this teacher's 'specialty' lies within the realms of discrimination and humiliation.

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  10. Adult on the spectrum in my blog post I linked to an article where the teacher said she had the kids vote to continue a lesson on tallying. My post is here:
    http://ginaminks.com/2008/05/24/249/

    However, I am just passing along info. I in no way agree with it, I actually am having a hard time comprehending why anyone would do this to another person, irregardless if the child is on the spectrum or not. Hell I would be fired from my corporate training job if I did this to adults!

    I don't understand at all.

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  11. That's simply disgusting. :(

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  12. Here's a link to the school's website:
    http://www.stlucie.k12.fl.us/mse/

    Here's a link to the Kindergarten staff page:
    http://www.stlucie.k12.fl.us/mse/staff/kindergarten.html

    They have uniform policy - that is one of the things that gave my daughter total stress in Tallahassee. I wonder if he has sensory issues with the stupid uniform? I think public schools that see uniforms as necessary also think strict control and discipline are the only ways to educate kids. That doesn't work with Aspie kids - or their siblings to be honest. Because once the parents figure out how to accommodate for one kid - we want all our kids to be free to be themselves.

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  13. Thanks Bev for posting all of this great info... It is situations like this that made us decide schools were no place for our ASD child. He's homeschooled, but as parents we have never stopped advocating. Well done!

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  14. 40 years ago a teacher in Stockholm, Maine forced us to be cruel to a classmate because she was exasperated with his inability to sit still. I STILL remember that and it STILL bothers me to this day. What this other teacher has done is not only cruel to Alex, but will probably leave scars on the other children as well. I cannot believe that any adult would think such behavior was okay. Even if Alex were not dealing with a condition in the autism spectrum, I would still find this behavior beyond cruel and inappropriate. If the school is not held accountable, then I am afraid that this will become accepted. If the teacher needs additional help in the classroom because of Alex's special needs, then there are avenues to take. This was NOT the way to handle it, and my heart goes out to Alex. He IS special. The teacher was wrong.

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  15. Christschool has done a masterful job of compiling draft letters of complaint to the authorities and the media over at Thinking in Metaphors. Anyone who wants to use them please let Christschool know and also forward copies to ASAN who are trying to coordinate responses.

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  16. This story has me wondering, since we're probably destined to have kids on the spectrum. Are there *ANY* private schools that aren't Christian? I'm Buddhist and my soon-to-be wife is Diest. Do we have any options?

    We live near Oklahoma City, if it makes a difference.

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  17. Yes, there are private schools that are other religions, as well as no particular religion.

    I want to note though:

    I was held back a year and put into a private school after I'd been in public school up through fourth grade.

    But private school wasn't much better than public after the novelty of being somewhere with slightly smaller class sizes wore off.

    It just meant I got bullied by rich kids rather than kids of all income levels. (And I wasn't rich, which was another reason to bully me.)

    And it also meant there were stricter requirements for being there. I almost didn't get in because I failed one of the entrance tests. Private schools also don't have to provide disability-related assistance if they don't want to. They can be in many cases more exclusive than public schools.

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  18. Thanks for the warning and first hand story, Amanda.

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  19. The words fail me - I posted a thread on AFF about the matter; with info on where to read more.


    ichtms

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  20. Hello all, I have begun a Facebook group in support of Alex. Please join at: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=15802057671. Maybe his mom will learn of it and see that the Barton family has support from all over the world. Please feel free to write a supportive message on "the wall." Thanks!
    Holly

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  21. I can hear this teacher now, "Alex, that's 14 votes no, bring me your books and leave the classroom area immediately, your class has spoken" She should be fired and her teaching credentials revoked!

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  22. Everyone should call the Board and the school. I did, I am not on the spectrum and neither are my children but I am appalled at how this teacher acted and how the school is responding.

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  23. I am a mother of a little boy who was diagnosed a week ago on the Autisim Spectrum, Asperegers Syndrome! My son is not yet 3, but no schools would take him without us hiring a shadow for him. Like Alex my son has behavioral issues, does not make eye contact, nor does he make friends. I used to be a teacher in nursery schools and kindergarten for both typical developing children as well as special needs. Melissa Barton should be taking legal action against the school, teacher, and district. These children forget nething, they are high functioning and an incident like this most likely will scar Alex for life. I commend Melissa for speaking out, my only advice further, is to get nasty. Fight with all she has. This little boy, like my sone deserves every chance to be main streamed and the opportunity to grow! I commend her for going to the media. As for this teacher, she should be stripped of her credentials, she is not a teacher, she is a bigot! No person, especially a child deserves this! My heart goes out to Melissa and Alex. There has to be more we can do as a public!

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  24. This whole situation is absolutely unbelievable! I cannot believe that she was not fired immediately. The principal and school board should act immediately on this and I hope other parents with children in this school will show support for Alex and get this teacher removed. This was not only harmful to Alex and his mother, but what about the harm to the other children in the classroom - by teaching them that this is acceptable behavior. This little children who look up to their teacher now see that treating people badly because they are different is perfectly acceptable.

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  25. What's particularly disgusting are the comments I'm seeing on public forums now, especially in response to articles that gratuitously discuss the kid's diagnostic process. Comments to the effect of "You see, that's the problem with the system today -- people use Aspergers as an excuse . . ."

    WHAT. THE. FUCK.

    It's obvious folks would be more outraged if nobody'd mentioned ASD at all. Then, perhaps, these jackasses would consider the implications of doing that bullshit to a little boy -- ANY little boy. With the diagnosis on the table, it seems the kid has lost points for human-ness.

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  26. What a rotten teacher! Sounds like the parents need to vote her out of her job and make sure everyone lists off to her why she was a rotten teacher and a rotten human being. People like that should not be teaching children.

    Disgusting, she ought to be fired and never allowed to teach again.

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  27. Don't Believe The HypeMay 27, 2008 at 11:24 AM

    Melissa Barton actually went on national television this morning and compared Wendy Portillo to Al Quaida. Really?
    I wonder if everyone would be so incredulous if all the propaganda spinning and sensationalism were stripped out of this story. The truth is, Alex Barton isn't diagnosed with anything. Melissa Barton says she is "now in the process of having him tested for Aspergers," which translates to "I can't sue anyone if my kid is just a brat." Ms. Barton could barely control her own child during their appearance on "The Early Show." The fact is that after numerous unsuccessful attempts to address the child’s behavior problems, including individual attention and referrals to the principal, Wendy Portillo used an admittedly unconventional method to teach a child with horrible behavior how his behavior was affecting those around him. She didn't break any laws, she didn't harm him, and she didn't deny him an education. (I assume everyone realizes he wasn't actually voted out of the class.) Everyone needs to take a breath and put this into perspective.

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  28. To the person who wrote "Don't Believe The Hype said... "--You're quick to conclude that the Barton boy is merely "a brat" and not autistic, but the most you will say about the teacher Portillo is that "Wendy Portillo used an admittedly unconventional method." So you doubt the Bartons but you are quick to give the benefit of the doubt to a kindergarten teacher who thinks it is OK to have a kid stand up and let other kids call him "annoying" and "disgusting." You have a bit of a credibility problem. Let's assume for a moment that your point has merit- that the Barton boy is not autistic and merely - as you say - "a brat"- is it still OK for a kindergarten teacher to stand ANY kid up in front and let the other kids call him "annoying" and "disgusting"? Treating 5 year olds cruelly, even misbehaved 5 year olds, is really wrong and it violates many laws. Next point- how do you know whether to believe or to not believe "the hype"? Many parents of autistic kids dread the diagnosis, live in denial, and often prolong or avoid it altogether- it is not something one would fake. My son is autistic. Is yours? The fact that Ms. Barton "could barely control him" on TV actually supports the notion that he possibly is autistic- as any parent of an autistic child can tell you this is a classic symptom. I'll bet you don't have autistic kids- and probably you don't have any kids because no parent could sound as cold-hearted as you do. It's a shame that you are more troubled by Ms. Barton's negative reference to Al Quaida than by the cruel and anti-social behaviour that she teaches her class.

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  29. Oops..I should proofread more..."It's a shame that you are more troubled by Ms. Barton's negative reference to Al Quaida than by the cruel and anti-social behaviour that PORTILLO teaches her class.

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  30. These Floridian elections, eh? They're either immoral or unethical.

    Look, "hype", who cares if he is a brat? It's not the teacher's prerogative to enlist his peer group to demean and traumatise him. She's an adult - she should know better. If you've got a 'brat' in your classroom, you meet with the parents, you file incident reports, you suspend. You TAKE THE HIGH ROAD because you are AN ADULT AND AN AUTHORITY FIGURE.

    I've been in a lot of classrooms in my life, and not one of them was run as a democracy.

    Human rights issues aside.

    Not to mention the fact that Ms Portillo is a member of a visible minority, herself, and should be, if anything, more sensitive to a child's need for inclusion.

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  31. Even if the child is "just a brat" there is NO reason for what that excuse for a teacher did to him.

    That teacher needs to be fired.

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  32. There has got to be a special place in Hell for someone capable of this.

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