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Non-Surprise of the Day


The Florida teacher who asked her kindergarten students to vote a classmate with Asperger's Syndrome out of the classroom has been reassigned.

According to a newspaper account, a police report filed after the incident explains that the decision to take a vote on 5-year-old Alex Barton was a part of a lesson that the children were learning on voting and tallying. The teacher, Wendy Portillo, also told police that the vote was to let Alex know how his behavior was affecting the class, and it was only intended to be for a day.

"Portillo said she did this as she felt that if (Alex) heard from his classmates how his behavior affected them that it would make a bigger difference to him, rather than just hearing it from adults," according to a report released Thursday morning from the Port St. Lucie Police Department.

The incident did not meet the standards for emotional child abuse, according to the police, so no charges will be filed. But obviously, the story is not over for Alex, his family, or the teacher.

I'd really love to hear from my parent and teacher readers on this one.



Over at Joanne Jacobs, this topic has gotten quite a bit of attention. Surprisingly few posters have dragged out the "what was this kid doing with normal kids" defense. There have also been some adults with aspergers relating their own experiences as children.

This was a pretty hideous and stupid thing to do. I am not of the camp, however that would demand immediate resignation and loss of license. Essentially I think that she is "trainable." I am a bit impressed by the attempt to tie the thing into what kids were learning; as well as the wholly misguided stab at calling on peers to give feedback.

It sounds as though this kid had become pretty free-floating throughout the building (as many kids with differences do). The school resource officer had worked with him (begging the question of whether the dollars for security might better be spent on classroom aids), and he spent a lot of time in the office. This particular incident resulted when he returned to the class after the second exclusion of the day (for lying on the floor under a table and raising it with his feet). The teacher responded that "the class" was not ready for him to come back. Then the discussion went into all the things that he did (eating crayons, kicking the table, lying on the floor and eating boogers) that they didn't like--followed by the vote.

I have seen peers used successfully in similar situations--but the focus has to be on viewing the child, and the child's challenges, as being within the group. Children, with proper guidance, can be very giving when it comes to responding to one another's challenges. This could have been an opportunity for the class to be involved in things like a revolving buddy plan to help Alex out by offering friendship and reminders when his behaviors were annoying (and annoying really sounds like the limit of what was going on), or some general responses that would be acceptable (Alex, I don't like it when you eat your boogers).

I would say that it is the rare teacher and the rare school that is able to contemplate this kind of social approach to kids with differences. But we really have to find ways to cultivate this.

I agree that the teacher made an error in judgement in this situation. I also completely understand the parents point of view. However, I think that the teacher and district should use this as a training tool and move on-punishment of the teacher is not called for here. Asperger's is difficult to deal with, especially having this student in a regular classroom. The child tends to talk a great deal, blurt out things, and disruptions are the norm, so much so that many students rebel at the hinderance of their success. With this in mind, I can understand the frustration built up in the classroom and this teacher's unconventional way of dealing with it. I applaud the, "thinking outside of the box" but disagree on the methods. Her intentions were admirable but the methods were less than professional. It is done with-learn from it and move on down the road!

I had not heard much about this incident, other than the sound-bytes which flew around the TV, radio and newspaper presentations. When I think back to all the mistakes I have made in the 9 years I have been teaching, I shudder to think what could have happened to my career if any one of them (while not this obvious or harsh) had gone under media scrutiny. I agree with the other postings that suggest this be made into a learning tool for all educators as well as the one involved.

I wonder if the entire thing might have ended differently if the teacher had been doing this kind of thing all along. For example, if the class had used many examples of classroom behavior by several students, both those with and without disabilities, to teach voting procedures, nothing may have been said. It sounds like this is the only student who was used as a means of teaching the entire class a specific lesson or process, and that is probably what went sadly wrong.

I have taught lessons on working with those who have noticeable/severe disabilities but it has to be done very carefully. In a class that does not have students with disabilities, you could tie the entire lesson to one about prejudice and historical tragedies such as the Holocaust, showing that a person's eye color, hair color, size, gender, age, etc., does NOT matter in who they truly are. A colleague cautioned me before I began this effort in my room that I be very careful not to leave a negative feeling with any classmates who were used in the demonstration. It can be done correctly, but it takes a certain type of educator personality, as well as a certain classroom atmosphere of acceptance and understanding, to make lessons like this a success.

Where was the IEP team before all of this happened? Why didn't the student have a shadow or paraprofessional working with this student. Being a teacher is a tough job with a general ed classroom. When you have a special needs student that misbehaves on a daily basis, does not follow the classroom rules, disrupts the lessons, etc., special accomodations need to be made by the IEP team. I work on a daily basis with special needs students with emotional and behavioral disorders. They prove to be a tough bunch of students to work with. They do not go into the mainstream classroom until they prove to the staff that they can work in the classroom without any problems. Special accommodations are made such as five or ten minute breaks every hour, volunteered time-outs, being shadowed by a paraprofessional, etc. There's more to this story that what has been told so I can't say whether or not the teacher made a mistake. It just depends on how the situation was handled and its intent. The IEP team needed to work on a solution to accommodate the child.

Hi everyone!

From what I can tell of the newspaper coverage, I don't think this child had an IEP. I think that's the reason why there weren't paraprofessonals involved.

From what I understand he had started the evaluation process for special education. He is protected by IDEA and Section 504. I would say his teacher and the school are in for some major headaches. They deserve them. What an incredibly insensitive person; And not a very bright one at that.

This story has hit every autism-related listserve I get, and the universal response seems to be heartbreak. I keep running into cases in which autism behaviors are treated as defiance using the traditional discipline methods. It doesn't work, people. The incentive-based techniques do work. But the non-autism culture views this as indulgence. And so the rejection, disruption, depression, isolation, and heartbreak continues. Training? Yes, but more than that: a cultural shift in the school environment that learns how to accept and intrepret the behavioral communications of the autistic mind.

As a special ed teacher and specialist for 27 years, when I first heard this story I felt sick to my stomach. Frankly, I'm surprised by the amount of support for the teacher. This boy is 5 years old, for goodness sake! Cuing kindergartners (or any other age group) to focus on negative traits with the message, "He doesn't belong here" is a horrible lesson. This incident could have long-lasting and serious emotional consequences for the boy, and discourages acceptance of differences by everyone else. Where was the staff development from the district or school psychologist to work with the teacher on strategies for understanding and addressing the student's needs?

What happened in any classroom is difficult to judge when one has not actually seen the incident or incidents. It doea however sound like this particular teacher did make at the very least aan error in judgement. Kindergarten students, in fact all students, respond best to positive, corrective feedback. In this instance, the teacher gave in to the frustration that nearly every teacher experiences when faced witha problem student. The best course of actio is to divert attention away from the student as much as possible while attempting to refocus the student on a more positive path. It seems odd that this student did not have a supervising aide, or that he had not been evaluated if it is known that he has Asperger's.

If this child has been diagnosed, what happened to an IEP? It is my understanding the child did not have one. I am in the process of writing my dissertation on a special education topic. One thing I can provide from my experience is beginner teachers are being placed in situations they are not fully trained in how to handle. It is also my opinion that some teachers are oblivious to what is needed to teach this special population. Besides Aspergers is a fairly new form of Autism to the United States and when speaking to those that are not in the education profession as well as those that are in the education profession, they mostly don't have a clue what Asperger's is. I believe the teacher did not use her common sense in this situation. You should not have to be trained in how to treat a human being. This is also my philosphy of if you don't know, ask!

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