PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Wendy Portillo, who two years ago led her kindergartners to vote an autistic student out of class, has again been accused of discrimination against a student with a disability.
Portillo will be getting new training after the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights received a complaint in February against the St. Lucie County School District. The complaint said the district failed to implement the student’s health plan during the 2009-2010 school year, according to information provided by the U.S. Department of Education press office.
“OCR investigated and found compliance concerns,” the press office said. The situation is being monitored after the Office of Civil Rights and the district agreed Aug. 9 on a resolution plan, the press office said.
Portillo and two other teachers were named in the complaint, which said the teachers did not consistently wear a microphone during class, required so a hearing-impaired student could hear the lessons, according to WPEC Channel 12 in West Palm Beach.
School District officials said the teachers will get training.
“The St. Lucie County School District has agreed to retrain the teachers to consistently use the audio enhancement devices per the resolution agreement with the Office of Civil Rights. It continues to be the mission of St. Lucie County Schools to provide the most effective learning environment for all students,” district spokeswoman Janice Karst said in a statement.
Karst said Portillo is continuing to teach.
In May 2008, Portillo was teaching kindergarten at Morningside Elementary in Port St. Lucie. She sent Alex Barton, then 5 years old, to the principal’s office for disciplinary reasons. When he returned sooner than expected, Portillo brought him to the front of the classroom and allowed his classmates to tell him how his behavior affected him. Portillo then initiated a classroom vote to see whether Alex should be allowed to come back to class. Alex lost the vote 14-2.
The case attracted national attention.
Portillo was given one-year unpaid suspension. She returned to teaching in November 2009. She was assigned to teach sixth-grade science at Allapattah Flats K-8.
In January, the Florida Education Practices Commission placed Portillo on probation for one year, and fined her $500 because of the kindergarten vote incident. The probation requires her not to violate any law and fully comply with all district regulations and rules.
Alex’s mother, Melissa Barton, filed a federal lawsuit against Portillo and the St. Lucie County School District in August 2009.
The lawsuit alleges intentional discrimination, gross neglect and abuse and describes the voting incident as a “Survivor-style” vote, in reference to the reality TV show.
The lawsuit alleges school officials knew Alex had a probable disability and did not follow proper procedures.
“I’m not surprised (about the latest incident involving Portillo). I’ve been very vocal on this issue for a reason,” Barton said. “Here we are again, not even a year later (after Portillo’s reinstatement).”
Barton’s attorney, Leo Plasencia of West Palm Beach, said neither he nor Barton could comment on the pending litigation.
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