Wendy Portillo of Port. St. Lucie, FL-Ignorant teacher has her kindergarten students “vote out” their classmate with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of Autism)

You know, I try to keep it lighthearted here. But sometimes, a person commits an act so repulsive, so ignorant, and so unbelievably stupid that I can’t let it go. Case in point, Wendy Portillo, a kindergarten teacher at Morningside Elementary in Port St. Lucie, FL. Apparently, Portillo, hereafter to be referred to as “Classless Idiot,” lined up one of her students, Alex Barton,a 5-yr. old, in front of the classroom and had the classmates tell this boy what they didn’t like about him. Alex has Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of Autism. So, at the insistence of their teacher, Classless Idiot who apparently forgot how to be a role-model, let alone demonstrate even simple grace, the classmates voted as to whether Alex should stay in class. By a vote of 14-2, the students, also 4 and 5 yr. olds, voted Alex out of class.

Classless Idiot, surprisingly defended her actions. She apparently felt quite justified in humiliating a child with a recognized disability, and showing the other students how you can be woefully ignorant and cruel even as an adult. Here’s to Classless Idiot getting canned. I’ll vote for that.

Lest anyone start to defend the Classless Idiot that is Wendy Portillo, one must realize a few things. First, I’ve worked with developmentally disabled children and adults in both a volunteer and professional setting for 8 yrs. So, attempting to justify Classless Idiot’s actions because I don’t know what a child with Asperger’s is like is futile. Second, my wife, like several of our friends, is an elementary teacher. Her jaw about hit the floor when she read the story. Not only could she not imagine a professional actually doing that, she commented on how quickly they’d be fired at her school. Of course, she teaches at a charter school, so teacher accountability is actually an ideal that is practiced (No unions to defend the indefensible). Third, it’s called being a human being; more specifically, a human with a shred of understanding for the challenges that Alex undergoes on a daily basis.

Drop school officials a line here. If you scroll down to the bottom you can see “Ms. Portillo” as well as her email address. I’m sure she’d love to hear from you. Click here to email her. If that doesn’t work, I’ll list her email here, which is readily available through a Google search.
portillow@stlucie.k12.fl.us

More here.

**Update**

From Asperger Square 8
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.

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6 Responses to “Wendy Portillo of Port. St. Lucie, FL-Ignorant teacher has her kindergarten students “vote out” their classmate with Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of Autism)”

  1. innercityteacher Says:

    I understand the parents view and they have the right to be upset. However, everyday classroom teachers are not taught to deal with EBD (emotionally behavior disturbed) students the way special ed teachers are. These students should be put into EBD classes where they have the structure and educators who know how to deal with them. Believe it or not teachers are human and if they aren’t receiving the proper support from their administration and special ed department they can “reach their limit” and make a bad choice. How many of you parents always do and say the right thing! As an educator I was taught that one way to get kids to realize how their behavior and actions affect the other students is to have the other students express their feelings. Example: My head hurts when you choose to scream for 10 minutes. I can’t finish my work when you take my pencil. I feel scared when you throw a chair across the room. This may not have been the right thing to do with a student with his disorder and at these students’ age. However, when you have tried all else with a disruptive child and the parents put off the behaviors to the disorder it becomes overwhelming. The student with the disorder has a right to a good education but so do all the other children in the same classroom. It is hard to teach and even harder to learn when you have a disruptive student in the room. What about the other students’ right to receive a good education! I feel sorry for the teacher. Presidents can make many bad choices and keep their jobs but a teacher isn’t allowed to make one. Doctors can make a mistake that kills someone but they don’t loose their license. Wake up people; the world is full of unfair things and people who make mistakes. Don’t crucify someone over one thing.

  2. Matt Says:

    To innercityteacher: People get fired for bad choices every day. As a boss, I’ve had to do the firing in cases where even I didn’t totally agree with the result. In the end, there needs to be proper recourse for actions and in this case the seemingly appropriate response to this outrageous action is to release her from duty. If one of my employees instigated the humiliation of another employee for ANY reason, they would have to be fired. This is not only the right thing to do morally but it protects the company from legal recourse. Now, you take this to the next level where the teacher has charge over minors that are not her own children and you can be darned sure that there can be a whole lot of legal recourse that these parents could take. Can you say “Emotional damages”?

    In the end, there are consequences for actions no matter what the reason. In some cases there is grace for people but I can’t imagine any parents of the kids involved would be very happy to have their kids continue in that type of environment.

  3. Your Daily Chum Says:

    To Innercityteacher (that automatically gives you more street cred right there)

    “I understand the parents view and they have the right to be upset.”

    Good, because what the teacher did was both unprofessional and cruel.

    “However, everyday classroom teachers are not taught to deal with EBD (emotionally behavior disturbed) students the way special ed teachers are.”

    You make some good points. I’m not sure Asperger’s would fall into an EBD diagnosis. EBD, or SED (Severely Emotionally Disturbed) children usually have been severely physically and psychologically traumatized, sadly; often by their parents or caregivers. Autism is a physical disorder and the behaviors are often very different from that of an EBD or SED child. EBD or SED children tend to be far more aggressive and violent when compared to an autistic child.

    “These students should be put into EBD classes where they have the structure and educators who know how to deal with them.”

    Perhaps where you work, teachers don’t receive any training. I know many teachers that are in elementary classrooms that have received training in dealing with children with autism. Of course they’re not as specially trained as those that received their undergrad in special education but not all children with autism or learning disabilities require a special ed. teacher. Children with disabilities have a wide range of functioning. I don’t buy the wholesale lumping together of every child with autism.

    “Believe it or not teachers are human and if they aren’t receiving the proper support from their administration and special ed department they can “reach their limit” and make a bad choice. How many of you parents always do and say the right thing!”

    Yes, I’m aware teachers are humans, and some districts certainly do a better job at supporting their staff than others. If you’re teaching in a terrible district with no support, you can always find a new job. Or quit. Not easy, but if you’ve reached a point of publicly ridiculing your students, you’re perhaps burnt out, or unqualified. You see, here’s the pickle; she did make a bad choice. A woeful choice and she saw absolutely nothing wrong with it. Had she seemed even slightly remorseful, perhaps there wouldn’t be such an outrage. Parents do say terrible things to their kids. Now imagine your mom lining you up in front of your siblings and telling them to say what they didn’t like about you? I’d imagine that one would sting for a long, long time. Now imagine that little boy in Florida.

    “As an educator I was taught that one way to get kids to realize how their behavior and actions affect the other students is to have the other students express their feelings. Example: My head hurts when you choose to scream for 10 minutes. I can’t finish my work when you take my pencil. I feel scared when you throw a chair across the room. This may not have been the right thing to do with a student with his disorder and at these students’ age. However, when you have tried all else with a disruptive child and the parents put off the behaviors to the disorder it becomes overwhelming. “

    This “may not have been the right thing to do with a student with his disorder and at these students’ age”? Really? May not have been? If you’d stop defending a fellow teacher for just a second, you’d probably find yourself feeling a bit certain about the inappropriateness of the situation. My whole point was that the combination of the diagnosis and the children’ ages is exactly what made it so reprehensible. Well, also that an adult was leading the cruelty.

    “The student with the disorder has a right to a good education but so do all the other children in the same classroom. It is hard to teach and even harder to learn when you have a disruptive student in the room. What about the other students’ right to receive a good education!”

    I don’t disagree that all students have a right to a good education, and yes, certainly one disruptive student can impact the room. What do you think those other kids learned that day about how you deal with someone that has a disability? Wasn’t anything I’d want my children learning.

    “I feel sorry for the teacher”.
    We agree! As mad as I was, another thing I kept pondering was how on earth anyone who has been professionally trained to deal with children could do this. I feel sorry for her as a rational person with any sense of grace would’ve handled the situation better. Perhaps she needs a great deal more training, or at the very least, someone to hug her? How could a teacher not see how deep that would cut a child?

    “Presidents can make many bad choices and keep their jobs but a teacher isn’t allowed to make one. Doctors can make a mistake that kills someone but they don’t loose their license. Wake up people; the world is full of unfair things and people who make mistakes. Don’t crucify someone over one thing.”

    Hey, don’t get me started on bad Presidents; I’m sure we’d find even more to agree with on that topic. Bad Presidents should get fired, and there’s Constitutional law to handles such matters. Perhaps you’ve heard of the calls to impeach Pres. Bush? Doctors do lose their licenses if there mistake leads to the death of a patient. There are state investigation boards that make those decisions.

    I feel as if you’re missing an important point. First, everyone makes mistakes, no argument. What becomes a bit more troublesome is when a mistake hurts someone, say emotionally or even physically, and when a mistake is committed by, for example, a person put in charge of and entrusted with children.

    I detect an underlying aversion to accountability in your post. Since you’re a teacher, you obviously feel more protective of your professional peers. However, am I wrong to assume that there are some mistakes that are worthy of firing a teacher over? Most people work in environments where if they publicly humiliated, say a client, or even a coworker, they would be fired, often on the spot. Oh, and another thing, losing your job is anything but a crucifixion. I know you were trying to add emphasis, but such an unreasonable hyperbole diminishes your argument. Losing your job for whatever reason really doesn’t compare to being nailed to a piece of wood until you eventually asphyxiate and die.

  4. Michele Miles Says:

    I learned about this incident last weekend, and my heart aches for all sides. Our 14 year old son has Asperger’s and a central auditory processing disorder. We’ve focused on helping him since his diagnosis 10 years ago, and I can say that even the best intentioned and sympathetic people have done and said things which have caused pain to my child, my family, and to the classmates who have witnessed them. Ignorant people don’t have a monopoly on harmful behavior and compassionate people aren’t always well informed. We visited all the ‘religious’ schools in our County before a blue-collar, no-curb-appeal school gave Stephen a chance, and we’ve just finished the same quest for a Catholic high school. We’ve had ‘brilliant’ teachers who didn’t know where to begin, and who never figrued it out; we’ve had untrained teacher’s aides who knew what to do from Day One, and every where in between. We are 10 years into the marathon which Alex and his family are only just beginning. We are tired, but we are also triumphant. We are winning.

    So, to the family I say: Most kids like our sons don’t diagnosed until the third grade. How fantastic that you are on top of this and your son has every opportunity to be happy and wonderful and to have a life filled with achievements and friends. After a decade of getting inside Stephen’s head and understanding Asperger’s and central auditory processing disorder I can honestly say that if the Wish Fairy offered me the chance to make Stephen ‘normal,’ I would say ‘no.’ Stephen graduated from 8th grade this week – Valedictorian of his class, winner of awards for citizenship, for courage, for scholarship, for compassion — and in his speech he called up his best friend to announce that he had persuaded the school to name the basketball court after this friend, in celebration of and gratitude for their friendship. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Our sons will never take friends for granted, and never lose the chance to do a kind thing for someone else – because they see the world from the perspective of the marginalized. The rest of what they need to know about they can get from a book (in fact, you are about to enter the world of Social Stories – rule books on how to do things in ‘normal’ society are the Asperger’s kids’ best friends!).. Alex needs to know he has just learned in kindergarten. Find wonderful therapists; call the Center for Autism and Related Disorders at Nova University and get some resources in your area. Get ready for hard work and great success in equal measures. Cry, but don’t be afraid. Know you are in our prayers.

    To Alex I say: My son Stephen has been called many things which made him sad when kids or grownups did not understand that his brain works in a special way. Stephen needs lots of breaks during the day, and he has learned to be very organized to help him learn. He loves to swim and to play basketball and he loves to read. He wants to make movies when he grows up. I am sure you have many things that make you special and I am so sorry that your class mates said things which made you sad. I can bet it was hard for them to be in the room when all this was happening and I think they were sad too. Asperger’s Syndrome is a way your brain works, and people understand a lot about it. There are classes which can help you organize and books which can tell your family about it and games to play which help you decide what to do when you can’t figure it out. People with Asperger’s are also very, very, very smart. They can do one thing for longer than most people, and they think in ways that scientists wish they can think. You should watch some movies which the director Tim Burton has made; he has Asperger’s too, and you might be the only person watching the movies that gets all of the jokes – most people miss things, but not people with Asperger’s! You are going to find friends who understand you and they are going to be the best friends in the world. And never be afraid to be who you are – you sure sound great to me. How do I know? I have Asperger’s!

    To Ms. Portillo I say: You meant no harm and you are being crucified for the choice of a single day, in a year made up of hundreds of days when your students were happy and everyone learned. Teachers make decisions every day, and most of them are right. You’ll never do something like this again and you are probably going to bend over backwards to find out about Asperger’s and autism spectrum disorders and similar disabilities. Given the chance to work with a child on the autism spectrum you’ll have insights which other teachers won’t have. My oldest daughter leaves us for college next month to train as a middle school math teacher; she has already decided she has to fall in love with and marry a guy from the Business School so they’ll have enough to live on because teaching won’t pay a living wage – it is her vocation. I hope that your sense of enthusiasm and vocation will return; the grade level you teach is about helping kids get along with others and learn the rules which allow them to be part of society. Asperger’s kids need that more than most, and your information to parents aobut what you see in the classroom can result in earlier diagnosis and intervention when time is everything for these kids. Don’t run away from this; you’ve paid too high a price for this knowledge to waste it. God bless you and thank you for being a teacher.

    To the School Board I say: Shame on you for not providing your teachers with more resources. Autism spectrum disorder now accounts for 1% of the national population, and that’s just the folks who are diagnosed. 1 in 5 students has a learning disability. Set up classes to inform your teachers; build a program to target bullying in the lowest grades. Run to the book store and get a copy of the book “You Can’t Say You Can’t Play” and get enough copies for every teacher in PreK 4-3rd grade. Offer in-class workshops for students on the types of physical, behavioral and learning disabilities which exist in the population. Use this to galvanize your school system and make the changes. Be a leader among school systems in the state, which do too little too late to make these challenged children contributors to our society – they have much to give.

    And to everyone else I say: everyone has something to handle, and many disabilities are unseen, but felt only in the heart. I’d rather be disfigured than mean; I’d rather be mentally disabled than deliberately ignorant. I have no idea why God gave my son a disability, but I know that as a result of Stephen’s disabiliity our lives are filled with angels. I see so many things I would like to change but can’t; instead I am proud that I can talk about the gift of Asperger’s and see my son shine and grow, and see the effect that knowing him, helping and befriending him has had on the people we have met. Life is too short, and often too hard, to hurt one another. Move on, learn, and be blessed.

  5. Pam Says:

    This child has NOT been diagnosed with Aspergers. It wasn’t until after this incident that the child was diagnosed with ANYTHING. What about the children that are in this class that want to learn, and can’t because the of constant disruptions? This boys mother spends more time scouting out media outlets than she does getting help for this child!

    • Hope Says:

      Even if the child wasn’t diagnosed with Aspergers, it was a cruel and horrible thing to do to him. Think about it: She had the child stand up
      in front of the classroom, then had his classmates tell him things that
      they didn’t like about him, then had them vote him out of the
      classroom! And for no good reason either. I can only imagine how humiliated and sad he was.

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