School busWell, I did it again my response to a post has grown into a post of its own.. This started out as a response to Elfninosmom’s piece about a Wendy Portillo, kindergarten teacher, at Morningside Elementary School in Port St. Lucie, Florida who encouraged her students to excommunicate 5 year-old Alex Barton from their classroom. This is my reaction to the incident and I am not discussing the details of the incident. I want to discuss my reaction from three perspectives.

First as an educator.

What the Portillo did is inexcusable. She is supposedly a college educated intelligent adult. It is her responsibility to create an environment where are all children are accepted. Yet she is little more than an overgrown classroom bully.

My experiences as a learning facilitator taught me that some teachers have little tolerance for any child who is not “normal”. In the old days special needs children were often excluded from school. That was until the 1970’s and “Education for All Handicapped Children” (now IDEA) was passed and special education became mandatory. That means that schools do not have to provide advanced classes, sports or other extra-curricular but are required to provide services for special needs children. For many years special needs children were shipped off to special classes or resource rooms for part or all day. In the 1980’s and 1990’s inclusion and content mastery became the “in thing” students were only removed from classes for extra help or not at all. Today especially with budget cuts inclusion is more popular than ever. So, what is my point? Well, the Portillo looks like she has been teaching for a few years. I’m sure that  this is not her 1st experience with a disabled youngster or difficult child. Of course, she may be the kind of teacher who believes all children must fit her mold.

I understand that some children with Asperger’s Syndrome can be challenging to teach especially if you have other children in the classroom. Over the years I have had several students with some form of Autism and most did well in my class. As a professional educator it is one’s responsibility to help all students succeed in the classroom especially in the lower grades. My policy was that any student who desired to pass and was willing to work for the grade would pass.

Finally, this is the last week of May all students are going to be a little rowdy and even the good ones act like hellions. Couldn’t the Portillo make it one more week? Maybe she is just a very mean and vindictive individual. Her behavior was extremely unprofessional. In the very least the teacher should be censured and loose her teaching credentials permanently.

As someone who has a learning disability.

One of my teachers in elementary school had zero tolerance for my learning disabilities. To be successful in school I required only minor accommodations due to my severe dysgraphia. It is still painful to think about the teacher’s action. It was emotionally damaging for me as a child to be publicly humiliated. It was embarrassing when she would dump my desk on the floor and encourage other children to laugh at me and call me stupid. From that time until high school graduation my nickname was “Stupid ” or “Dummy“.

As a human

I am appalled that an adult is so insensitive that she would have no problem torturing an 5 year-old. Is this woman some sort of monster or does she have absolutely no conscience? This precious little boy was created in God’s image. Alex deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.

What kind of example is Portillo modeling for impressionable young children? In effect she is saying that it is acceptable to treat those with special needs as less than human.

My Suggestions for Dealing with Portillo

The Port St. Lucie Police Department have decided not to file child abuse charges against Portillo. It really isn’t surprising that no charges have been filed. She poses no future threat to Alex.

Portillio’s teaching career should be over permanently. Further, her teaching certification should be revoked. While I think she should never teach, I think mandatory community service working with disabled children might not be bad.

I think it would also be good for Portillio to get a dose of her own medicine. Maybe have her stand in front of the school or other public building holding a sign stating I pick on 5-year-olds. Also, I think Melissa Barton, Alex’s mom should be given an oportunity to make a victim’s impact statement to Portillio.

13 thoughts on “Response to: Teacher Encourages and Participates in Emotional Abuse of Autistic Student

  1. When I read the report yesterday about how the children described what they didn’t like about Alex’s behaviour it put me in mind of my own children’s classroom experience.

    Every Friday they’re encouraged to describe something they like about one of their classmates that week – the whole exercise usually dissolves into mass giggling.
    Best wishes


  2. Great post, Dee!

    I remember when I was in elementary school during the 60s and early 70s, the school had special classes for children with learning disabilities. One child in my class, however, had parents who refused to let her be placed in special classes. She was severely learning disabled. I remember on a state-required test in sixth grade, she got so frustrated that she just drew all over the answer sheet, crumpled it up, and threw it on the floor. The teacher was frustrated by that, naturally, but at the same time he knew the child was learning disabled. He certainly did not humiliate her in front of the other children; I don’t think that even occurred to him.

    Of course, there weren’t special classes for gifted children at that time in Appalachia, so the teacher’s solution for her and for me was for me to tutor this child one-on-one every day. It was a wonderful experience for me, and it helped her a lot because she did learn. When I first started tutoring her, she couldn’t really read at all. At least she could read somewhat when we left sixth grade, which is something even now I suspect she may never have learned without one-on-one tutoring.

    I don’t know what happened to that girl, since I moved away from my hometown in the early 80s, but I still remember her fondly. That teacher is now in an administrative position with the local school board, and I still remember him fondly. In fact, I think his plan to further the education for us both was brilliant.

    With Asperger’s, though, it’s a whole other situation. For example, I have a good friend who has Asperger’s. He is an absolutely brilliant man, and teaches Physics at a university. He has overcome the awkwardness of dealing with others to a great degree, needless to say, though his manner of speech is still unusual enough that others pick up on his disability immediately. I wonder whether he would be so successful now, if he had been treated like little Alex has been treated? I doubt it.

    Portillo should never be allowed around children again, if this is how she handles a discipline problem in a child with Asperger’s. The cops may think it’s not emotional abuse, but I beg to differ. That little boy will never forget what Portillo did to him, and it will likely affect him negatively for the rest of his life. If that’s not emotional abuse, I don’t know what is. Maybe someone should treat the investigating officer the way Alex was treated, and maybe then he’d realize that her behavior is not only outrageous, it’s criminal.


  3. Maddy,

    That sounds like a great idea to help children learn to be encouragers. On Friday, especially if it is in the afternoon a good giggling session is probably a welcome break.


    Sounds like what your teacher did was good for you as well.

    There are several well known people with some form of Autism including Dan Ackrod and Bill Gates. As for enduring an instance like Alex and being successful it is possible. In my case I was determined to prove my teacher wrong.

    Having dealt quite a bit with child abuse cases I am not surprised that the teacher isn’t being charged. Really, it is hard to prove child abuse in her case. Yes, it was wrong and an abusive situation but you have to be able to prove a long term pattern of abuse.


  4. I have to respectfully disagree with you, with regard to proving a longterm pattern of abuse. The law does not require that, nor does a jury require that to find someone guilty.


  5. I’m sure legally it isn’t that hard to prove. What I’ve heard from several sources in dealing with child abuse that due to system overload this would be rated low. The highest priority are the cases where a child is in immediate physical danger. Neglect and emotional abuse when not paired with other forms of abuse are low priorities. In education related incidents it is easier and more effective to file a civil suite. Pursuing legal actions on the grounds of disability discrimination is the usual course of action. Most of the laws regarding special education are the result of lawsuits.


  6. What kind of example is Portillo modeling for impressionable young children? In effect she is saying that it is acceptable to treat those with special needs as less than human.

    This is how I feel. What is she teaching those other students?? I would be horrified if I knew that my son’s teacher had made him do this to another student or a friend. I want to teach my son compassion and acceptance, yet what this teacher did was none of that.

    Of course, she could have had a bad day, she may have found out her husband was cheating on her, her house was being foreclosed on, whatever…but stress/bad day is no excuse. She should have known better. She had participated in meetings to help meet the needs of this boy.

    He was 5yrs old for goodness sakes. It isn’t like he was an adult who was just being an a*s. He has a disorder that he needs to learn to live with and control…at 5 he will not have those skills yet to deal with his disability!!! That is where his parents, doctors and TEACHERS come in…to help him learn to deal with and live with his disability…and this was not a way to do it.

    If a child comes in your class with a broken leg and knocks over the chairs every time s/he comes in with crutches or a wheel chair…do you berate that child as clumsy and have all the kids heckle them? No. You make accommodations. The same thing should have been done for this boy.

    All I can hope is all the children do not take her message to heart.


  7. Sandy,
    I don’t get this teacher either. The incident happened the last week of May. Any teacher who has taught more than 2 minutes knows that all children even the “good” ones are little hellions the last 2 weeks of school. By that time all real teaching for the year has been done. Kindergarten does not have to take finals. So the best thing to do is plan activities that keep hands and mind busy. The busier the better.

    In Florida the unions control teacher contracts and things so any teacher who can make it past 3 years has to do something very bad to get fired. It is hard to make it past 3 years because those are the first teachers who only get 1 year contract and may be shuffled around or let go first.


  8. I was a daycare mom for six years and would never think about doing this to any human. We really need to attract a better caliber of teachers and make is easier to let them go. Just because someone qualifies as a teacher does not mean they will be a good teacher.

    I agree that this teacher should have to at least put in time doing community service with special needs children so she learns to understand what they and their families go through.

    From the experience of other teachers who have quit the school system many are not educated by colleges to deal with special needs children. One semester is not enough college education to enable teachers to utilize proper teacher skills when teaching special needs children.

    Hopefully colleges have changed their curriculums give students enough of a base for teaching special needs children.

    After all would you put a physicians in surgery after 4 years and expect them to know it all? So why would we not change our teaching curriculum to make sure teachers have an all around knowledge of special needs children if they are going to have them in their class?


  9. In Florida the union pretty much controls things. Teachers with less than 2 yrs are routinely pink slipped every year. It is surprising that this teach ever got past 2 yrs.

    As for providing better training for teachers there was a move in the 1980s-1990s to eliminate the Bachelors of Education degree and reduce the number of education courses teachers are allowed to take. The thinking of elected officials was that more education courses make bad teachers and teachers need a real major. Many courses were eliminated to get under the 18 hr course limit. Also, as those not in education are allowed to control schools things like this will happen.


  10. I think this woman is horrible. I myself was emotionally abused by a teacher, only three years or so ago. I mean, I’m fourteen now, and it’s still difficult to deal with those happenings. I developed an Anxiety disorder after that and am now in high school, which has revolutionized my life.

    I recall, in reading class (this was 6th grade), a boy had a habit of ripping his assignments out of his workbook after completing them. The teacher, conversely, demanded that we keep the assignments in the book until the end of the quarter when we handed the workbooks in to be put into the gradebook. The boy sometimes lost his assignments before they could be corrected. Once, the teacher, she got so (excuse me for a lack of a better word) pissed off that she marched right over to him and started yelling at him in a voice that had a higher decibel level than a jet engine. Her face turned red, and she threw his workbook across the room and various other things of his, too, and he started crying. My heart was pounding at this point because I’d been through a similar situation too many times. This boy was not ‘troublesome’, in fact, he’s a very pleasant person — albeit a bit clingy, but they may be a result of this incident.

    This same teacher once cleaned out my desk when I was gone and confiscated several of my books, and threw things out without my permission. This same woman yelled at me until I cried almost daily. She insinuated to my mom that I may have ADD or was mentally delayed — the truth is, I’m actually a gifted child.

    Once, I came to school with a horrible headache, and that same day, she wouldn’t let me go to the reward day with the rest of the kids — right after the kids left to go outside (there was like, a bounce house and stuff) my headache worsened, and my mom had said that I could call any time and come home for a sick day. I then ask if I can use the phone to do just this. She glares at me and says, “Oh, NOW you’re headache’s bad.” no, not SAID, SCOFFED. She made me wait a while until I could call, too. This went to the point where I had a phobia of school. My mom would look at me some nights and ask if I wanted to stay home the next day.

    But, I agree that, as someone with a mental impairment, this is deplorable behaviour. And as an abusee, I think, KILL IT WITH FIRE!!! But as a student, I feel that this person should never be allowed to hurt again.


    1. Mackinze that does sound rough. I do want to point out that ADD, ADHD does not exclude someone from being gifted. In fact many people with ADHD are also gifted. When is can cause problems in a classroom when a bright ADHD kid gets bored and finds creativity ways to entertain themselves.


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