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December 2010



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First Published Sunday, 25th May, 2008.


“St. Lucie teacher has students vote on whether 5-year-old can stay in class”

Our children’s teachers are meant to be role models.  They are meant to guide, to teach, to instill values, consideration and care for fellow classmates.  To read your story Alex, was so very difficult, having been there with my own two sons once not so very long ago.  I sincerely hope that you continue on in your life with the appropriate supports and guidance firmly in place, with role models worthy of the title “teacher”.   I expect you to have an enormously bright future – those eyes speak volumes…  Perhaps you are are not aware of just how many people stand behind you and your family on this matter, but behind you, we are, wholeheartedly.

I sincerely hope that justice is done, that for the sake of all children, this teacher is not permitted to work in such an influential position with those so very vulnerable, again.   In respect of the damage already done, I would hope that schools take heed, lessons be learned, guidelines clarified and tightened, quality staff and high standards maintained to the highest order as should have been the case for Alex.


“The secret of education lies in respecting the student”  Ralph Waldo Emerson


As some of you may already be aware from news
articles<http://www.tcpalm. com/news/ 2008/may/ 23/st-lucie- teacher-has- class-vote- whether-5- year-old/>and
blog <http://www.autismvo x.com/5-year- old-boy-voted- out-of-his- class/>
posts<http://aspergersqua re8.blogspot. com/2008/ 05/not-special- support-alex- barton.html>on
the topic, last week a Morningside Elementary Kindergarten teacher had
students “vote out” of the class a 5-year old autistic student named Alex
Barton. According to the news article, the teacher had each of Alex’s
classmates, including his sole friend in the class, state publicly what they
disliked about him and then announced that they would take a vote to remove
him from the class. Alex has not been back to school since and has suffered
significant emotional trauma as a result of this incident. Regardless of who
you are or what your connection to the autistic and autism communities might
be, I think we can all agree that this is unacceptable.

We need to band together to prevent future such abuses from occurring, to
ensure that this teacher is properly disciplined and to encourage this
school to adopt both a strong bullying prevention policy and training on
respect for all forms of diversity aimed at both teachers and students. As
such, we’ve provided contact information below for you to write to
communicate your outrage. Please be polite yet firm in your comments,
pointing out the unacceptability of such actions when aimed at any student,
as well as the need for this school to adopt policies to prevent this from
happening in the future. This is an opportunity to drive home the message
that we will not stand by while one of our own is abused. We ask that you
please cc: info@autisticadvoca cy.org in your e-mails to the school district
so we can keep track of the strength and sources of this response. Remember:
abusive messages hurt our cause – please be respectful in your comments.

Contact info:

*Morningside Elementary School Principal:*
Mrs. Marcia Cully
cullym@stlucie. k12.fl.us
(772) 337-6730

*St. Lucie County Schools Superintendent: *
Michael J. Lannon
4204 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
HilsonC@stlucie. k12.fl.us

*Vice Chair:*
Judith Miller
MillerJ@stlucie. k12.fl.us

Ari Ne’eman
The Autistic Self Advocacy Network
1101 15th Street, NW Suite 1212
Washington, DC 20005
http://www.autistic advocacy. org

Responses from Various Members of the Community:

http://ballastexist enz.autistics. org/?p=538

http://joyofautism. blogspot. com/2008/ 05/autistic- kindergarten- student-gets. html

http://maternal- instincts. blogspot. com/2008/ 05/alex-barton- deserves- better.html

http://whittererona utism.com/ 2008/05/alex- barton/

http://leftbrainrig htbrain.co. uk/?p=834

http://actionforaut ism.co.uk/ 2008/05/24/ alex-is-cool/


http://autisticbfh. blogspot. com/2008/ 05/st-lucie- county-schools- vote-wendy. html

http://joeyandymom. blogspot. com/2008/ 05/alex-barton. html

http://www.alongthe spectrum. com/2008/ 05/my-two- new-heroes/

http://rettdevil. blogspot. com/2008/ 05/yes-alex- you-are-special- good-kind. html

http://stopthinkaut ism.blogspot. com/2008/ 05/im-not- special.html

http://bigwhitehat. com/?p=420

A further response, from Michelle A. Sarabia M.A.

Dear ladies and gentlemen:

As I am sure you are aware by now, the story regarding Alex Barton is starting to get attention across the country. I became aware of Wendy Portillo’s actions through postings made on certain web groups I belong to.

Regardless of the child’s behaviors or personality, causing any child to experience such rejection and hostility is terribly wrong and abusive. Even if the child was at that point undiagnosed, the RTI group (whatever you call your child study teams) should have been more than aware of Aspergers-like behavior in him, and have helped this teacher with appropriate interventions until the formal medical diagnosis could be received. We have a 3rd grader in my school who is so clearly PDD-NOS or HF classic Autistic that it only takes about 10 seconds around him to know it, whose parent as of now refuses to diagnose him. We have him in SPED under DD and SLI, and while we wait for a real diagnosis through our state educational- diagonsis team, we give him and the regular ed teachers the autism-intervention supports they need to succeed in supporting his academic and social learning. How can this not be happening in your district?

I am a special education teacher holding a Master’s degree and 12 years of classroom experience, as well as a parent of two children, one falling within “norm” expectations, and one with a variety of labels including Aspergers. I am also “mildly” Aspergers/NVLD myself.

Yes, it causes problems with mistakes in communication, frustration, etc. Properly managed, and with educated friends, family, and colleagues, the strengths that come with autism spectrum can be celebrated.. . loyalty, honesty, preseverance in knowledge and in action, analytical skills, ability to create detailed structure, etc. These things should be looked for in all Spectrum people.

By every code of ethics I have ever seen for the teaching profession, Ms. Portillo’s actions are inexcusable. That teacher should be dismissed and her license revoked, and the district should bring in counseling services for both the AS child and his classmates; one to help the AS child with the anxiety resulting from such severe bullying from an authority figure, and the others to counteract the intolerance instruction they have received from their so-called teacher who was so deeply unable to manage having a child with differences in her classroom.

There should be supports available in your district to teachers who are at their wit’s end from a child’s behavior, whether because that behavior does not respond to effective routine classroom management, the teacher’s inexperience, and/or from teacher burn-out. Especially in this young man’s case, there are tons of resources and trainings now nationally for those dealing with autism-spectrum students. What she did was totally unprofessional; including her inability to tap into your district’s resources (if you have them), as well as online, journal, and other resources to support her when she reached the limits of her own skills.

Also, if that teacher is new to teaching, the college that “educated” her should be audited for course content, especially their classroom management, introduction to special education, and multicultural classes.

As educators, our jobs include preparing ALL students to the greatest extent possible for the adult community and workforce, NOT teaching kids in the “norm” to despise and reject those who are different, and teaching those outside the “norm” that they are worthless and impossible.

That little guy’s behaviors can be remediated using structure, routine, and direct guidance, as all of you I’m sure (or at least fervently hope) are very aware. There are many research-based tools now available that educators did not have even 20 years ago… and which make what happened a terrible blotch on our profession.

Please act to ensure that your teachers and community are properly educated and brought into the 21st century.

Michelle A. Sarabia, M.A.
Elementary Resource and Enrichment SPED teacher
Parent of a child with AS, OCD, ADD, SLD

1. Karen left…

Monday, 26 May 2008 2:52 am

Oh please he has NOT been diagnosed yet and he has a behavior problem. He was sent to the office once already that day – he was being voted back to the principals office because of his behavior. I think everyone should step back and feel sorry for the rest of the class that has lost countless hours of quality instruction because of this unruly child!

2. Julie left…

Monday, 26 May 2008 2:07 pm

Hi Karen,

If countless hours of quality instruction were lost because of an unruly child, and I were responsible for teaching/guiding that class, I would feel I’d let this child and their peers down. It would be an opportunity lost. I seek to understand behaviour and nothing brings greater joy than watching positive outcomes for all, when competent role models/educators are at the helm and everyone involved is appropriately supported.

Diagnosis is irrelevant. I have worked for the past 20 years with children presenting challenging behaviours, many minus labels/diagnoses, in both schools and childcare settings where I and others have promoted inclusion, rather than exclusion. I myself presented with disruptive behaviour(non-aggressive, but nonetheless terribly disruptive) at 5 years of age, as did my 2 sons. Both Alex and his peers were done a grave disservice by an incompetent teacher. A competent teacher, who has the best interests of ALL her students in mind, will view challenges that arise as opportunities to assist those struggling, behaviourally or otherwise. A competent teacher will encourage and assist those under her instruction, toward tolerance and greater understanding for peers who may be struggling.

Harmony in the classroom can be restored if staff are adequately trained and supported, disruptive behaviour appropriately managed, and a positive and respectful attitude toward all children maintained.

Wendy Portillo’s actions were abusive and bullying toward Alex, beyond measure. Her methods are in no way representative of quality staff who seek to provide a supportive and positive learning environment for the benefit of all.

3. A local grandparent left…

Tuesday, 27 May 2008 4:31 pm

Ms Portillo should be spared the indignity of being a role model for internet harassment. I’ve enough experience in the classroom to address a complex issue that troubles many instructors, particularly those teaching in the pre-school classroom environments. These instructors are rarely qualified to be surrogate parents to the 100s of children they represent, but they are very skilled classroom leaders and they provide a service well worth the tuition each child brings to the system. The pseudo science and modern day divinery that has created “disabilties of learning” as discrete medical entities offers only more elaborate plans of care for struggling kids, or encourages drug use at an age most assured to damage the brain’s plasticity and involve kids in their parents’ struggle to motivate them toward living an exceptional life. Regarding instructors that are affected by classroom disruption, we can plainly see from petitions such as this, the supporters of any means to reduce school discipline to the status of barbarism feel that teachers (and I suppose by extension, that jobs, friends, and whole host of netizens) are easily obtained — not made — and can be shucked aside whenever one wishes to make a point. Shame on the Bartons, for not coming to the aid of the school at an early stage, I’ll stand corrected if it is made public that the school invited the boy’s family to counseling as these many disruptions came to light over what I perceive to be a lengthy time in Ms Portillo’s classroom or in pre-pre-school.

4. Denise left…

Thursday, 29 May 2008 2:55 am :: http://www.myspace.com/moto110

As a Mother of a child that grew up with the highest level of ADHD. I know how Alex’s mother feels and just recently blogged about it on my Myspace page. He struggled all through life in school and the constant answer was to send him to the office. Instead of trying to educate the teachers with the answers to people with disabilities. I am going to include my blog at the end of this comment. It may not help at all. These kids dont want to be bad trust me. Do you think people with Terrets (spelling??) want to burst out and curse in the middle of church…. The difference is the same.

KAREN… I give you my sincere prayers. Alex is the one that is suffering.

My Blog: Yesterday was a huge day for my Son Michael. He finally graduated. This was not a normal thing like most children in this world. Alot of people just dont understand what this child or I guess I should say Man has been through.

First of all he has the highest level of ADHD that you can have. Growing up for Michael was not a easy task by no means either. I was 17 when he was born and it was not a easy road for a long time. He dealt with me and his father getting a divorce. He dealt with watching his father battle a drug problem. He lost a Step-Dad that truly cared for him… He has always looked for that solid Father figure that was going to be there for him when Michael needed them not when they needed Michael. His Poppy is the only sure man that Michael has had since birth.

School life for Michael was always tough. Fighting ADHD on a daily basis was always his toughest task. The schools even had special meetings that if he couldnt be still that he had permission to go outside and run around the school to get rid of the energy busting out of him. He had very little control over ADHD. He would say out loud “Self please chill out”. He hated taking medicine cause of the zombie side effects. So we just dealt with it. The teachers were always at wits end with Michael. They just didnt get it. I would go talk to them and their exact words is “I want to hug him and at the same time I want to pinch his head off”. Michael loves everyone, and everyone loves Michael…… His grades wernt the greatest and I was just happy that he even had a grade.

His Junior year started and here was our first meeting of how we are going to deal with Michaels ADHD this year. They made him a stand up desk so he could wiggle around freely in the back of the room. And before the meeting was over Mrs. Gilpatrick stood up and looked Michael straight in the face and said “Why dont you just quit? Your almost 18 now.. Go get your G.E.D.” It took everything that I had in my power not to just get up and go off. I bursted out in tears and did throw a little bit of a fit. His head just dropped and he had that look of failure all over his face. He told her that he wasnt proud of the ADHD but he wanted to stay in school. I politely told her in a stern voice that she needed to keep her opinion to her self. All the way to work that day I cried my eyes out for fear that he would quit school. I told him over and over we made it this far lets keep going.

After that teacher spoke those words to Michael he always felt as if he wasnt wanted at school looking for the perfect reason to give up. He is constantly looking for the place where he fits in. He is constantly on the go. If yu want to punish Michael to the worst level just make him sit in a chair for a hour. He cant do it, the energy is bursting out of him.

Junior year was finally over and he was finally going to be a Senior. I was so excited that he was finally going to make it. He turned 18. We went and bought him a new jeep. He was so high on life. He now had a new ride that the top come off and he could just go and go. 23 days later he was hit head on by a man that was drunk, had no drivers licence, no insurance, no tags and it wasnt even his car. It hurt Michael so badly that he had to be flown to Earlanger in Chattanooga. His jeep was totalled. His face was so bad that his nose was within a 1/4 inch of being ripped off and nearly lost his eye. His chin was cut so bad that his tongue was coming out of it. He was so determined to make me calm down that he made me kiss him and he tried to assure me that he was ok. I could have lost him on that day so easily.

Senior year was finally here and he was only going to school two hours a day and then he was on the Co-Op program where you got a credit for working. So he was out of the teachers hair and they were basically rid of him. They seemed pleased. So I get a phone call from Michael in December that they are going to MAKE him graduate early. I would have never had time to get there for that. It was going to happen within the hour. NO NOTICE NO NOTHING! I called and demanded that he get to walk the line in May cause it was them that wanted the early graduation not me or Michael for that matter.

May finally came and last night I got to see My SON walk that line. All day long I teared up so many times. I honestly thought that he would give up before this day ever came. What people think of Michael means so much to him. He is definatly the light of the party. He is so much fun to be around. To see him shake that mans hand and take that diploma with his other all I could do is yell “You finally did it Michael” I was never so proud in all my entire life. I was so high in the clouds that I had to look down to see everyone. I cried so hard that I couldnt even stop. now is the kicker…….

Michael was next to the last in the line. I didnt care where he was as long as he was in that line. The last boy to graduate was wheelchair bound and he has severe cerebal palsy when he got that diploma he was so happy that he started shaking uncontrollably and everyone stood up and clapped and watching the tear roll down that boys face cause he was so happy cause he finally made it too. No matter whats wrong with you, if your in a wheelchair or if you are fighting ADHD everyone deserves the opportunity to be treated equal. I am so proud of Michael and the boy in the wheelchair, they both beat the odds. They both found the final result. They may not have had the highest GPA but they left that building that night with their heads held higher than anyone there cause they struggled more than anyone for that piece of paper.

  • I just wanted to get this off my chest. I have thought about it all day and I am a proud mother of a graduate of Livingston Academy 2008 class.

I can be reached at: bdenise710@yahoo.com or http://www.myspace.com/moto110

5. Julie left…

Thursday, 29 May 2008 1:06 pm

To ‘a grandparent’: You appear to be justifying the unethical, immoral behaviour of a fellow teacher. You also appear to take issue with the provision of those ‘elaborate plans of care for struggling kids’. Accommodations in the classroom for those with learning differences enables children to access the curriculum and assists them and staff to manage more effectively. We are talking about neurological difference here. I’m sure you’ll agree that every child, regardless of ‘difference’, is entitled to an education. Times have thankfully changed in this respect. Countless children/adults with ‘difference’ have struggled, my own children included, suffered discrimination not just at the hands of their peers, but by their teachers throughout time, having been expected to suffer in silence. Many of the accommodations, carefully considered strategies and approaches(eg TEACHH) employed today are recognized as invaluable. The issue of medication is one that parents tend to agonize over and research to the hilt. It is certainly not a decision taken lightly. In some cases it has proven beneficial, in others vital, and I respect the right of parents to make this decision. I personally chose not to medicate my children(all three are on the autism spectrum, as am I) and do share your concerns in some regards. I have sadly read news reports of teachers encouraging parents to medicate their children as they have struggled to deal with disruption in the classroom. As for your comment “Shame on the Bartons for not coming to the aid of the school at an early stage”, now ‘shame’ is a word I would reserve soley for Ms Portillo in this particular case. There is no justification for her actions. None whatsoever.


One Response to “In Support of Alex Barton & Family”

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