Imagine; your five year old comes home from kindergarten one day, utterly devastated. He never wants to go back. You wonder what could possibly have upset him so. He’s a quirky, cute, smart little guy with a heart of gold. Sure, he’s got some challenges; what five-year old doesn’t? Okay, he’s being evaluated by school as possibly being autistic; but they know that so it can’t be a school issue, right? Something must have happened with a kid on the playground. Yeah, that’s it. Better check with his teacher.
This is what happened to five year old Alex Barton of Port St. Lucie, Florida:
Melissa Barton said she is considering legal action after her son’s kindergarten teacher led his classmates to vote him out of class.
After each classmate was allowed to say what they didn’t like about Barton’s 5-year-old son, Alex, his Morningside Elementary teacher Wendy Portillo said they were going to take a vote, Barton said.
By a 14 to 2 margin, the students voted Alex — who is in the process of being diagnosed with autism — out of the class.
Melissa Barton filed a complaint with Morningside’s school resource officer, who investigated the matter, Port St. Lucie Department spokeswoman Michelle Steele said. But the state attorney’s office concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse, so no criminal charges will be filed, Steele said.
Port St. Lucie Police no longer are investigating, but police officials are documenting the complaint, she said. Steele said the teacher confirmed the incident took place.
When I read this story, I was utterly horrified. Yes, it is a blatant act of discrimination against a child who is potentially classified as “disabled” and who should be protected by numerous federal laws against discrimination. But this incident goes so far beyond just autism or disability rights that it’s mind-boggling; I’m not even sure where to start to express my thoughts and feelings.
First of all, what the hell was this teacher thinking in facilitating such a disgusting show of immature and exclusionary behavior? That the very person who is charged with educating young children and who should be modeling some fairly core, fundamental principals of human behavior —of which acceptance of each others’ differences and learning how to get along with those who may not be “just like us” should be paramount— should be the driving force behind such bullying leaves me outraged.
Frankly, autism is not even the issue here. I would feel the same outrage if this happened in any class or among any age group. Children are cruel enough to one another when left to their own devices; what could possibly motivate an adult to encourage such thinking, let alone acting on it? I simply don’t understand.
Before someone gets all righteous on me and slams me with the “disruptive behavior” card, let me be perfectly clear. I don’t know Alex Barton; all I know is what I read in some news articles. The child has some alleged behavior issues which, from the sound of it, have been disruptive in school. Do I think the teacher should simply turn a blind eye and roll over on this issue? No, but public humiliation and a class lesson in Bullying 101 is not the answer. It’s been indicated that he is being evaluated for Aspergers and may be eligible for an IEP. No matter what, it seems to me this goes beyond a mere lack of resources or training necessary to cope with challenging behaviors in the classroom and the teacher should be held accountable for her actions in some fashion.
Other bloggers are covering this story as well. I don’t have a full listing but you can check for yourself at the Autism Hub where you will find a phenomenal collection of voices from parents, professionals, and most importantly, autistic adults.) The first posts I saw were from Amanda and Bev. Bev’s post includes contact information for the school officials so you can let your voice be heard.
An interesting point of information to note here is that Florida is one of only a handful of states given a stellar rating by this watchdog organization for its recently enacted anti-bullying legislation. Unfortunately, it doesn’t go into effect until December 1, 2008. Perhaps the teacher thought she’d better get her licks in while she still could?
If you live in a state with no anti-bullying laws, you might want to contact your state legislators and urge them to draft and pass one. Your kid could be the next one voted off the island…
The opinions are flying on this one, folks. Some people actually think this teacher did a good thing. (Go here to read comments on the news article.) Lest my point be lost on you, I do not agree.
What do you think? How would you feel if it were your child?