The mother of a five-year-old who was voted out of his kindergarten class is considering a suit against the teacher. The children were allowed to tell the boy everything they disliked about him, and then voted on whether he would stay in the class.
Alex Barton, a student at Morningside Elementary School, was told by his classmates that he was disgusting and annoying and was then voted out by 14 to 2 and spent the rest of the school day in the nurse’s office. Melinda Barton, his mother, says that he won’t be returning to school because he keeps reliving the experience and starts screaming when he accompanies her to school to drop off his sibling. He is also devastated because “"The only friend he has ever made in his life...” took part.
This might be considered just a case of poor judgement on the part of the teacher, maybe an effort to teach the children about prejudice, but what lies below the surface suggests something less innocent. Alex has disabilities which have caused some disciplinary problems. This led to discussions between his mother and school officials, including his teacher, to develop an IEP (individual education plan) for him. He is also undergoing testing for Asperger’s, a mild form of autism.
Even if the event was intended to be educational, it’s hard to understand why a teacher would select a child who was already having problems in school. Maybe she thought the lesson would have been lost if she had selected a child who was generally liked and had few or no problems. Exactly what is being taught when a child -- any child -- is verbally attacked by classmates and then excluded? This is the mentality of reality television shows, and has no place in school. Deliberately subjecting a child to verbal abuse and rejection is a violation of the trust that teachers are given by parents, a violation of the most basic ethics we expect from anyone who has children under their care.
It would have been unacceptable behavior toward any child, but when it comes to children with disabilities, incidents like this are all too frequent. One of the main concerns of disability groups is the verbal bullying and physical violence that too many school children suffer. Amanda Baggs, a severely autistic woman, covered this issue in today’s blog post. Her own school experiences of brutality came from teachers as well as students. “Some teachers were okay, but some of them seemed outright sadistic. A shocking number of autistic people I know, me included, have had teachers or other authority figures ask everyone in the room to tell us everything they hate about us.”
Further on, she says: “If schools are going to exist and teachers are going to teach in them (and I’m not a big fan of schools, but I know to say they’re widespread is an understatement), they ought to discourage hate and exclusion. As should parents.
“They ought not to join in.”
The Florida state attorney's office “concluded the matter did not meet the criteria for emotional child abuse, so no criminal charges will be filed.” Port St. Lucie police have documented Barton’s complaint, but are not pursuing the matter. The Department of Children and Families is conducting an investigation.