Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Mother of Florida boy voted out of kindergarten class says documents reveal teacher knew he is autistic


WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -- The mother of an autistic boy whose teacher allowed her kindergarten students to vote him out of class revealed new documents Feb. 7 that she said proves the teacher knew about her son's autism.

In May 2008, Morningside Elementary School teacher Wendy Portillo asked her class to vote on whether Alex Barton (pictured) should be allowed to stay. He lost the vote, 14-2.

Alex, now 8, has been diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a type of autism.

"There are documents here that will prove that not only did Wendy Portillo know that my son was undergoing evaluations through the district and privately for autism, particularly related to Asperger's syndrome," Melissa Barton said during a news conference.

Barton said Portillo's signature appears on documents referring to Alex's autism weeks before the incident. She also claims the St. Lucie County school district was aware Alex needed special services but never provided them.

"His hair was pulled. His feet were stepped on. He was pinched," Barton said. "There were some incredible things going on in that room and, in fact, one incident he was drug down the hallway of the floor by Wendy Portillo by his feet with his head on the ground."

There was an investigation into those allegations, but no evidence was found.

Portillo was suspended for a year without pay, but her tenure was later reinstated. She is now teaching at a different school in St. Lucie County.

Barton's public accusations come less than a week after a settlement between Barton and the school district was finalized. As part of the settlement, Barton was awarded $350,000 plus interest.

"The St. Lucie County school district believed there was no legal liability to the district in this suit and had filed a motion for summary judgment in its favor," spokeswoman Janice Karst said after the settlement was finalized. "Prior to a final ruling on the motion, a court-ordered mediation resulted in a satisfactory resolution that was negotiated and funded by the district's insurance company."

Barton said she isn't done fighting yet. She is now lobbying to eliminate teacher tenure.

"I think they need to learn a lesson here," Barton said. "They need to take teachers like Wendy Portillo out of the classroom."