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The Knucklehead of the Day award

Today's winner is Wendy Portillo. She gets the award for the following-

The St. Lucie County School Board voted unanimously Tuesday night to suspend without pay Morningside Elementary School teacher Wendy Portillo for one year after she allowed her kindergarteners to vote on whether 5-year-old Alex Barton could remain in class.

Board members acted on a recommendation by Superintendent of Schools Michael Lannon, who also recommended that Portillo be put on an annual contract -- Portillo had been tenured -- and plans to ask the state Board of Education to revoke her teaching certificate for one year.

Lannon wrote Portillo a letter stating that her actions "caused community and, in fact, worldwide outrage and condemnation."


According to Port St. Lucie police reports, Portillo brought Alex to the front of the classroom that day and asked other students to tell him how his behavior affected them. Alex, who was in the process of being diagnosed with Asperger's Syndrome at the time, had left the class twice that day for discipline referrals to the principal's office.

After classmates talked, Portillo then asked the class to vote on whether Alex should stay in the class. Alex lost the vote, 14 to 2.

"Portillo said she did this as she felt that if (Alex) heard from his classmates how his behavior affected them that it would make a bigger difference to him, rather than just hearing it from adults," according to the report.

School isn't some episode of Survivor. If children voted out classmates, kids who fit in for no better reason than their speech impediment or having a big head because of the way doctors botched their delivery into the world, would be ousted every day. Those last two describe me, and I was picked on unmercifully as a child.

Wendy Portillo deserves to lose her job, not just be named today's Knucklehead of the Day.


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Comments (9)

I had the misfortune of bei... (Below threshold)

I had the misfortune of being somewhat hyperactive--extremely talkative--but also having a pretty bad stutter. Grade 1 scarred me for life!

Asperger's Syndrome? Poor kid. There's a good chance he'll be a famous artist or musician someday, but his life will probably never be easy, especially in kindergarten f.f.s.. This teacher is a moron.

Had almost the exact same t... (Below threshold)

Had almost the exact same thing happen to my family by an ignorant schoolteacher who enjoyed telling us how she had "20 years of teaching experience."

Our problem teacher had the same line of thinking, peer pressure and trying to get a kid to bend to her will. Because she tried to use the class to pressure our son to act like everyone else, he was an outcast among his peers and labeled a "Troublemaker."

My son is an Aspie and he didn't react to her the way she felt he should react, so he was harassed, berated and screamed at in public by OUR ignorant twit. We actually had another one of our sons calling us telling us to hurry and come get them because the teacher was yelling again.

We wound up pulling him from school and completing his third grade year at home. The school district failed us miserably by letting a rogue teacher abuse our son and my main regret is I lack the financial resources to make them discipline her so she cannot do it to another child. You see, unlike the child in the mentioned story (who was undergoing testing), we already HAD a diagnosis from the school district of ASD.

This story just opens up old wounds.

OK. This is a can of worms ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

OK. This is a can of worms but I'll bite. The teacher's conduct was completely inappropriate. No student should ever be singled out that way, regardless of his or her supposed disability or "normalcy." I say "supposed" because "Asperger's Syndrome" sounds like another imaginary behavioral disorder that roughly translates into "being a young boy." Look it up. It is quite vague and subjective.

On the other hand, many parents and children alike use "disabilities" like ADD, et al as a kind of shield to excuse any behavior. Teachers are required to excuse all sorts of conduct that should be unacceptable in any classroom based on childrens' increasingly ubiquitous "disabilities." In today's world, any child who continually acts out in an aggressive manner must have a behavioral disorder by definition. How convenient.

I understand your sensitivity to this issue Bill, but I am not buying the fact that the child was singled out because of a disability. No mention is made of the child's actual behavior in the article, but it was obviously inexcusable and disruptive to the whole class. It sounds like the teacher lashed out in desperation. The point is that appropriate behavior should be expected in the classroom regardless of a child's supposed disabled status. A child should not be taught that a disability gives them a free pass. Discuss.

The point is that approp... (Below threshold)

The point is that appropriate behavior should be expected in the classroom regardless of a child's supposed disabled status. A child should not be taught that a disability gives them a free pass. Discuss.


A five year old child with Asperger's syndrome is incapable of the sort of uptake you would expect of him/her, and thus your assertion--that they learn how to manage themselves in a classroom--is unreasonable. What's to be done? I don't know, but telling them to "ACT NORMAL" is a) insensitive; b) humiliating; and c) ineffective.

Even if it's not a "real" "disorder", Jeff--even if it's "merely" a behavioural disposition--the teacher was completely out of order.

It upsets me that some people think that because ADHD/Asperger's/autism are conditions that are in part social constructions, which obviously opens the door to a lot of false or borderline diagnoses, that these conditions are somehow less real than, say, asthma or diabetes. That a condition manifests itself behaviourally or cognitively as opposed to physiologically is not reason for discounting the impact the condition has on the lives of those who have it--especially when the condition is psychological and proper treatment entails a level of psychological maturity that one could not reasonably expect of a five year old child.

The Devil's Advocate eats a big failburger on this one.

Hyper,Who said that ... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

Who said that he should be told to "act normal?" Your words. Behavior is learned, not pre-programmed from birth.

The tragedy is that a five(!) year old is deemed incapable of self-control and diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome by some egghead - an analysis wholeheartedly endorsed by his own parents.

At the ripe old age of five both his parents and society have given up on him. The mold has been set. Nothing to be done. Through no fault of his own, little Alex is forthwith expected to behave as the delinquent God has genetically programmed him to be. He will never bear responsibility for his behavior because he is incapable of doing so. How understanding. How compassionate.

The boy is already a criminal in the making.

Take two doses of Theodore Dalrymple and call me in the morning.

On a related note:</... (Below threshold)
Jeff Blogworthy:

On a related note:

There is something to be said here about the word "depression," which has almost entirely eliminated the word and even the concept of unhappiness from modern life. Of the thousands of patients I have seen, only two or three have ever claimed to be unhappy: all the rest have said that they were depressed. This semantic shift is deeply significant, for it implies that dissatisfaction with life is itself pathological, a medical condition, which it is the responsibility of the doctor to alleviate by medical means. Everyone has a right to health; depression is unhealthy; therefore everyone has a right to be happy (the opposite of being depressed). This idea in turn implies that one's state of mind, or one's mood, is or should be independent of the way that one lives one's life, a belief that must deprive human existence of all meaning, radically disconnecting reward from conduct.

A ridiculous pas de deux between doctor and patient ensues: the patient pretends to be ill, and the doctor pretends to cure him. In the process, the patient is willfully blinded to the conduct that inevitably causes his misery in the first place. I have therefore come to see that one of the most important tasks of the doctor today is the disavowal of his own power and responsibility. The patient's notion that he is ill stands in the way of his understanding of the situation, without which moral change cannot take place. The doctor who pretends to treat is an obstacle to this change, blinding rather than enlightening. - Theodore Dalrymple

The point is that approp... (Below threshold)

The point is that appropriate behavior should be expected in the classroom regardless of a child's supposed disabled status.

"Supposed" disabled status? That's a pretty loaded word--one you would do well not to use in cases like this without a greater level of familiarity with the case at hand. You have to assume the diagnosis is genuine in cases like this, for the sake of decency and charitable argument.

My point: it is unreasonable to expect "appropriate behaviour" from a child who lacks the cognitive wherewithal required to behave in such a way. Unfortunately for all of the other children in that class, it's not good for the child with Asperger's Syndrome to be isolated, and thus the other children--who are better at compromising and dealing with adversity than a peer with Asperger's--must be expected to tolerate this disruptive individual.

What do you mean "given up on him"? Like having Asperger's is some sort of personal failing? Like he's never going to accomplish anything with his life? I know someone who is dating a guy with Asperger's. It's difficult having a conversation with him but he gets by otherwise. Nobody "gave up on him" by diagnosing him with a behavioural disorder.

Don't stigmatize conditions/illnesses/disorders, Jeff. It's incredibly counter-productive.

You demonstrate an obscene lack of compassion by implying that he should be forced to act "normally" (whatever the hell that is) when his condition and his immaturity (worth noting again that he is five years old) cannot be shed with stern words and corrective parenting. The point is, he hasn't done anything wrong--there is nothing to correct. He is different, and that ought to be taken into account when dealing with him, not hammered away on the anvil of social normalcy. Not only would that be wrong, it would be ineffectual.

Ah, what did those students... (Below threshold)
Thomas Jackson:

Ah, what did those students have to say about the little choirboy? Did they enjoy having their day disrupted? Did they mind not learning while their activities were disrupted?

How can anyone point out that behavior that disrupts a class is unacceptabl;e. So heartless.

Little wonder our public schools suck. When the same attention is paid to learning as the self esteem of future congressmen and lawyers society will be better off. Till then we will continue to turn out ill educated, undisciplined but amazingly self centered and ego inflated morons. Just ask any employer.

Right, Thomas: let's take a... (Below threshold)

Right, Thomas: let's take all the kids who are wired to behave differently and expunge them from the classroom for the good of the whole. Ah, f*ck it, let's be more proactive with eugenic screening so as to avoid having to deal with these little rascals in the first place!

You aren't paying attention: when someone is incapable of differentiating between socially acceptable behaviour and socially disruptive behaviour, there is no reason to discipline them.

One can acknowledge that there are too many false diagnoses of behavioural problems--ADD/ADHD and depression being obvious examples--without shitting all over people with real problems, such as this young boy with Asperger's Syndrome.






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