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Terri Mauro

Alex Barton's Teacher Saw Humiliating Him as "Just Another Learning Opportunity"

By February 4, 2009

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Wendy Portillo is having her day in court. The teacher who had her kindergarten class vote a child with Asperger syndrome out is appealing her year-long suspension. And, you know, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. Sometimes things get blown out of proportion. Maybe actions were misinterpreted. So what does she have to say for herself?

A TC Palm report gives Portillo's side of the story on what happened after Alex Barton was sent to the office for "pushing a table up with his feet and flicking crayons at other students."

“I felt I needed to talk about what they had seen. I explained to them that people do stuff just to get attention. I was just telling them I was there for them,” Portillo said.

That's when Alex, then 5 years old, walked back in the room, she said.

Other students started talking about things Alex did. Portillo told him to listen to what his peers said about him.

“I said, 'I'm not sure I'm ready for you now,'” she said. “I said, 'Let's take a poll. One of the students said what's a poll. I said it's like a vote.'”

By the second vote, Portillo began making tally marks on the board in the front of the class, where Alex and Portillo stood. The class had been learning about keeping tallies, she said. Portillo said she didn't think whether the vote was appropriate.

“It was just another learning opportunity. It was just another way for me to review that teaching,” she said.

The vote turned out to be 14 to 2, she said.

She turned to Alex and said, “I'm sorry.” The class was not going to see him at that time, she said.

Alex left the classroom. Portillo didn't see him the rest of the morning.

Wow, grabbing a teachable moment on tally marks by using them to humiliate a kid? That's some creative teaching. And how can a teacher send a kindergartner out of the room and not see him for the rest of the morning? Isn't she responsible for him? Would anybody have known if he wandered out the front door?

At the very least, this is terrible judgment by an adult entrusted with young children. At worst, it's flat-out bullying. Either way, I'll be taking that benefit of the doubt back now.

What about you? Does Portillo's story change your point of view on the way Alex Barton was treated? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Read more: Special Needs News | Site of the Day | Preparing the School for Your Child With Asperger Syndrome

February 4, 2009 at 4:32 pm
(1) PWilliams says:

I say throw the book at this teacher, i have had to deal my own district on a similar situation. the class took a vote on whether to do a class project while “Child from a visiting SDC Class” is here or should we wait. My child was crushed, this event took place in front of his shadow and she is the one the reported it to me. when i took the issue to the principal, it was basically swept under the rug where she should have been.

February 4, 2009 at 4:58 pm
(2) Pam W says:

I’m sorry. Every vote I tally says that teacher can’t be in that classroom or any other, and we don’t care where *she* goes when she walks out the door.

Also, any kindergartner put in the position of ‘voting out’ a classmate needs counseling and support. All teacher training and mentoring advice I’ve ever heard about would lead that teacher to ask classmates what they appreciate about Alex and one another, or what they would do instead when they feel like flicking crayons or pushing tables with their feet.

Putting them in the position of voting a classmate out teaches them that individual diversity is something to be hidden and ashamed about ~ and every child should be proud of their individuality.

Those two children who voted to keep Alex in the room were obviously the only ones who did not ‘get’ the real lesson that teacher was demonstrating to the class. Having him leave taught them that they were wrong.

Portillo victimized her entire kindergarten class. It is not a crime to have Asperger’s Syndrome, and it is not a crime to be a five year old using behavior as communication.

Fifty percent of the teachers who earn their credential graduate in the bottom half of their class. Perhaps this teacher is trainable or educable, but we have no evidence of that at this time. She seems not to know or care that she taught a lesson in hate and intolerance.

Other teachers may defend and attempt to protect Wendy Portillo, but I believe most of them are aware that her behavior can not be justified or excused. Exclusion, restraint and seclusion have been shown to have the opposite effects that were intended. Alex Barton deserves a public apology and a ‘welcome back’ party from the entire school and district.

Families of classmates should know that their children have been subjected to an experience that can negatively influence their attitudes and self image during their childhood, teen and adult years. Their parents will no doubt make decisions they don’t like as they grow up – and Portillo has used this ‘teaching moment’ to help them tally their differences rather than respect and value their connections.

Pam W
SE of Seattle

Aversive Restraints and Seclusion

February 4, 2009 at 7:02 pm
(3) Annam20 says:

Restraint & Seclusion Awareness Video

End the use of aversives, restraints and seclusion

February 6, 2009 at 1:23 pm
(4) Sharon says:

The fact that this teacher feels the need to appeal her suspension shows she doesn’t “get it.” Was the child allowed to appeal the poll? As for not knowing where he was all morning, that is a HUGE safety violation and she should lose her job for that alone. Never mind that she completely violated this child’s rights and IDEA. I vote that we revoke her teaching crednetials and let her find another line of work. All in favor? Let’s tally the votes! It has such potential as a “teaching moment” for her to see what it’s like to be on the other side of the table. She’s lucky she’s not my child’s teacher.

February 8, 2009 at 2:12 pm
(5) Stephanie says:

Maybe court and the unemployment line should be used as a “teachable moment” for this person. The jury should bring in a big chalkboard and talley their votes – you know – teachable moment, government in action!

February 11, 2009 at 11:23 am
(6) Kristina says:

I def say give the teacher the maximum penilty. I am currently dealing with issues my kindergardener is having with his kindergarden teacher singling him out and embarrising him every chance she gets. If anyone has any ideas Help…this needs to be brought to an end. This isn’t what tax dollars should be paying for.

February 14, 2009 at 7:48 pm
(7) Kate Gladstone says:

Wendy Portillo’s “own side of the story,” as she tells it, only makes her look worse.

If the hearing board has any sense, they will do the following, to show Ms. Portillo the meaning of her actions:


The board should convincingly *pretend* to have dropped all charges — the board should *pretend* to have secured for Ms. Portillo a new job, with a clean record-sheet, in another school-district. Then …

One fine morning when Ms. Portillo shows up for work, the principal should meet her at the door, pull her into the office, and inform her (in the sight and hearing of other staffers) that her workmates have voted her out of her classroom and out of her job (for any reason or for no reason at all), and that she will have NO appeal because she gave none to Alex Barton. When she communicates her unhappy feelings about this, the other staffers should tell her that she has “misbehaved” by making known these feelings, and/or they should tell her that she does not in fact have unhappy feelings about what has happened — because Wendy Portillo told Alex both these things when he expressed his unhappy feelings by word and action.

February 26, 2009 at 5:36 am
(8) Taire says:

There simply has to be a higher standard for teachers. This woman may be a teacher of bullying but is qualified in no other subject. I wonder how many other children are so abused, and we never hear about it?

September 3, 2009 at 5:52 pm
(9) Jason says:

The teacher likely made a poor decision. But I’m tired of everybody playing white knight in this discussion. There are two important points I want to make.

1) This child is not autistic. He is in the process of being evaluated for Asperger’s Syndrome. I have Asperger’s. I’ve also worked as an aid to an autistic child as part of a cognitive-behavioural intervention team. The two syndromes are completely different in scale. Children with Asperger’s should not be allowed to use their (mild) syndrome as an excuse for behavioural problems.

2) We don’t know what the child’s history of behavioural problems included. How disruptive a child was he? Did he masturbate in class? Did he hit others? Did he start screaming at random in order to get attention? If so, the teacher may have simply been trying to show him that the attention he was getting was negative attention, and that his behavioural problems were the cause.

We seriously do not know enough to pass judgement on this woman. She may be the victim of the media circus, scapegoated to keep the situation from negatively affecting the careers of her superiors.

September 4, 2009 at 11:15 pm
(10) Ray says:

A teacher demoralizes a student, includes her class in the process, and we are wondering why people still insult, embarass and belittle children with special needs? Its no different than saying “Its okay to single out minorities, they are less intelligent.” I remember this treatment when I moved to the South as a minority student. If this was a child who was a native american or a minority we might be outraged now but “Oh it was just a child with special needs. He might have misbehaved so the teacher should be given another chance.” Wrong. Whatever this child did, and remember who is the child in this situation and who is the Adult trained to be a teacher. There is nothing, nothing this child could possibly do to be treated any less than any other student. This country is up in arms if the prisoners in Quantanimo Bay are mistreated what about the childrent who can’t speak, who have no voice and are ridculded by the same teachers who are paid to take care of them. She should be ashamed to show her face in any school and more importantly what kind of peers who want to work with a teacher who belittles a child?

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