September 21, 2008

St. Lucie County School Board; Time to Stop Gibbering and Act.

I've been looking back at some past posts, and I realize that I haven't followed up on Wendy Portillo, the scumbag teacher who not only humiliated a child with learning disabilities in front of his classmates, but got his classmates to participate in the humiliation.  Her actions traumatized 5 year old Alex Barton.

When last we looked in on the St. Lucy County Schools teacher, she had been removed from contact with children pending an investigation.  That was on May 27th, the end of their school year.

So here we are, well into the new school year.  And Portillo?
District spokeswoman Janice Karst said Portillo still is on temporary assignment away from children until the investigation is completed. Because lawyers have gotten involved in the issue, the investigation is taking longer to complete, Karst said.
- TC Palm, August 25 2008
What a load of crock!  Sure, lawyers can complicate a case, but this case isn't that complicated. This isn't about lawyers, this is about the School Board being a cowardly group of incompetent hacks.  The facts in this case are clear, and the actions to be taken are equally clear.

Let's review the facts that are NOT in dispute:
  1. Alex Barton was undergoing evaluation for Autism.
  2. Wendy Portillo was aware of this.
  3. There were procedures in place to deal with his discipline issues.
  4. Portillo did not follow those procedures when she called Alex up in front of his classmates.
  5. Portillo was aware that what she did was not one of the procedures because she was part of the team that wrote those procedures.
  6. She did call Barton up in front of the class, and she did have his classmates tell him why they didn't think he belonged in the class.
  7. She did call for the other children to take a vote on whether or not he should stay in class.
  8. When the children voted that he should not stay in class, she did send him to the nurse's office.
  9. At no time did Portillo inform the Principal or Mrs. Barton about these actions; Mrs Barton discovered this only when she came to pick up her son at the end of the school day and was told to go to the nurse's office.
Those are the facts; they are not in dispute.  Portillo has admitted to all of them.  These are all a matter of public record (the police report), and don't post comments that ignore them or contradict them unless you can provide links to factual records that back up your claims.

The School Board only has to determine a few things:

Were there polices and procedures in place?

Was Portillo aware of those policies and procedures?

Did she follow those policies and procedures?

Were Portillo's actions reasonable given the and procedures that were place?

Now, look at those questions, and review the nine facts that are not in dispute.  The answers are all there, they are all obvious, and the conclusions are inescapable.

A lot of people have latched on to Alex's autism; they argue that this is a case about whether or not a child with autism should be in mainstream classrooms.  These critics are wrong; while that is an issue worth discussing, that is not the issue of this case.  The issue of this case is "Did Wendy Portillo act appropriately, given the guidelines that were in place at the time of the incident?"

Portillo, versed in the policies and procedures, supposedly educated in dealing with 'special needs' children,  threw out the rules and had his classmates judge him for something he had no control over.

Let's remove Autism from the discussion for a moment.  It's not actually relevant to this discussion; the real issue is a teacher's treatment of a student with disabilities.  Alex Barton has a physical disability; his brain is wired differently from yours or mine.  He can not control his out bursts; eventually, with treatment, those outbursts may be mitigated.  But they will not be reasoned with, any more than you can reason with tuberculosis, cancer or an amputated limb.

If Alex had Cerebral Palsy instead of Autism, we would not be having this discussion.  A student with Cerebral Palsy can also be a disruptive influence in class; they can have difficulty moving around, they can have a hard time communicating clearly.  Their physical demeanor can frighten or disgust other children.

If Wendy Portillo had asked her class to judge a child with Cerebral Palsy, her ass would have been fired immediately.


  1. Well, I guess it could be worse:

    Princeton Bioethics Professor Debates Views on Disability and Euthanasia


    With none of the protests that have marked his previous appearances on campus, Peter Singer, the Princeton University professor whose support of infant euthanasia in severe cases of disability has made him a lodestone for controversy, debated his views publicly for the first time tonight before 500 students and faculty members.

    The debate, sponsored by the university's Bioethics Forum, focused on two main issues: when, if ever, it would be appropriate to kill a disabled infant, and the relative worth of living with a profound disability.

    Professor Singer, who was named the university's first Ira W. DeCamp Professor of Bioethics a year ago, did not break any new philosophical ground.

    His most provocative statement tonight essentially repeated what has led so many of his critics to protest his appointment. And none of what he presented in the discussion, titled ''Ethics, Health Care and Disability,'' seemed to come as much of a shock to his audience, mostly students, or his debate opponent, Adrienne Asch, a professor of ethics at Wellesley College.

    ''I do not think it is always wrong to kill an innocent human being,'' Professor Singer told the rapt audience in Harold Helm Auditorium. ''Simply killing an infant is never equivalent to killing a person.''

    Professor Singer, 53, an advocate of animal rights who also has said he donates a fifth of his salary to famine relief, went on to challenge the idea that human life, simply because it is human, is worth more than that of any other animal.

    And he said that, all things being equal, it is better not to have a disability.

    ''I don't think anyone seriously disbelieves that,'' he said.

    But Professor Asch, who is blind and referred to her notes in braille as she spoke, disagreed. While she acknowledged Professor Singer's willingness to present his views and said she did not believe he was a monster, as some critics have charged, she said, ''If there is a monster, it is not Peter Singer, it is the views he purports.''

    In particular, she contested his implication that a disabled person's life was not as complete as that anyone else's.

    ''I think it is simply wrong to put all desires, pleasures, goals on one calculator and say that life without disabilities is always better than life with it,'' she said.

    Since last year, when his appointment was announced, Professor Singer has been a lightning rod. On the day he began his graduate seminar, ''Questions of Life and Death,'' the police arrested 14 demonstrators, including several people in wheelchairs, after a rally outside the university's administration building to protest his views on euthanasia.

    The group that led that protest, Not Dead Yet, was not in evidence tonight, nor were there other protests. Caroline Nuffort, a Princeton senior, said, ''I'm not all that disturbed, because it's just philosophy.

    ''I'd be a lot more disturbed if he were trying to implement it,'' she said, referring to the professor's view that sometimes it is better to end the life a severely disabled infant.

    Jed Seltzer, a senior from Philadelphia, said he came out of curiosity. ''How do you judge the ethics of an ethicist?'' he asked before the debate. ''I feel like I wouldn't consider myself well-informed until I'd read every single one of his books.''

    Diego Von Vacano, a graduate student from Bolivia, said he felt that Professor Singer's views were not being fairly represented in the media. ''I don't think he's all that extreme,'' Mr. Von Vacano said. ''The main thing is to be open-minded and to listen to what he has to say. I think Princeton should have more professors like this.''"

    Professor Singer seemed to appreciate a chance to offer his views. ''It's obvious that the events relating to my appointment were a factor in choosing this as a topic for a debate,'' he noted.

  2. I am still disgusted by the actions of Portillo.